The high school baseball season ended not too long ago, and the next season still a long way off.
But Martinsville Post 42 and Patrick County Post 105 are using this summer to try to bridge some of that gap. At the junior legion level, both teams have a mix of varsity, junior varsity and middle school players. For those who haven’t gotten a taste of baseball at the varsity level, this summer is a big step up, which is why it is important to have the more experienced players there to help.
“It’s giving them an opportunity to step into the leadership role early,” said Patrick County Junior Legion Head Coach Tal Swails. “This summer, having those guys that are a little but more mature, that are going to be in that leadership role, it just allows them to start the process sooner.”
Post 105 is entirely made up of players in the Patrick County High School system. Some were on varsity last season, and the youngest player on the the roster just finished seventh grade. All of Swail’s players have played for a number of years and understand the game, but this summer is giving them their first look at what that next step might be like.
It’s the same thing for Post 42 in Martinsville, and the levels of experience are just as varied as the roster composition. Whether they are from Bassett, Magna Vista or elsewhere, all the players have played baseball, but maybe not at this level just yet.
“It’s just faster, guys are stronger, they hit it harder, they run faster,” Swails said. “That’s the hardest thing for the young guys is catching up to the speed of the game.”
That’s where the older, more experienced players come into play. They’re the ones who have already gone through the growing pains of catching up to the speed of varsity baseball, and they’re the ones who can make a difference on the field.
“When we’re on the field it’s a lot of recognizing when the younger players are in position and telling them what to do in certain situations to prevent them from getting lost in the moment and not knowing what to do,” said Bassett rising senior Elliott Underwood, an outfielder for Post 42. “When we have a freshman at third base and I’m in left field I’ll be like, ‘hey tag three, go one in this situation...’ It’s just constantly letting them know, ‘Hey, you’re on this team, make sure you’re involved, make sure you know what’s going on,’ and prepping them to take our roles when we leave.”
Some leaders are more vocal. Some aren’t, and that’s okay. Underwood acknowledged that Post 42 has players with different methods of leading, but both have done the job.
“You have certain guys that maybe don’t have the physical ability, but they have the knowledge of the game and they’re able to tell the guys with the physical ability how to put that to use, but you also have the guys that maybe aren’t so vocal, but they know what they’re doing and they know how to perform on a baseball field and you can just tell with your eyes, ‘Hey, that is exactly what I should be doing,’” Underwood said.
Either way a player wants to lead, Post 42 and Magna Vista Head Coach Sam Suite said he just wants them to always be an example for younger players.
“I always tell them to lead by example,” Suite said. “Of course I want them to tell them when they see them doing something wrong, but the big thing is be a leader, be an example to the guys on the bench that’s watching you that’s inexperienced, and to all of the kids in the stands that are just excited to be here. Be an example. Be the epitome of a baseball player and what they should be.”
There are so many things to adapt to when making the move up to varsity, and there are some things that players never learn. That’s why it’s important for players with that experience to pass down that knowledge to make it just a little bit easier on the younger players.
“It was a big step up... It was a whole other level,” said Patrick County’s Kelon Penn, who played his first varsity season with the Cougars this spring. “It took me a little while... if you watch it out of the pitcher’s hands you can see the ball better and then timing is a lot better. Varsity level is definitely a whole other step up.”
With that step up, especially from the pitchers, it’s crucial for players not to overreact to being in a slump. It’s hard for even an experienced player to handle failure, but they’ve at least been through those slumps and can help make it a simpler process.
“You just have to be ready to step up and tell that guy, ‘Hey, it’s not that big a deal. Everybody Ks. Everybody gets out,’” Underwood said.
“Keep your head up, learn from it, practice it more, ask your coach, ask him what you’ve done wrong, figure out what you’ve done wrong and go to the cage and work on it,” Penn said.
It’s still a long way to getting back on the diamond for the high school season, but the lessons learned this summer could go a long way for those playing for Post 42 and Post 105 when they get back to that point.
Chris Doherty is a Sports Reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him 276-638-8801 ext. 215. Follow on Twitter @BulletinSport