Covering the Bases

Andy Pettitte made his long-awaited return to the Yankees yesterday, doing relatively well for a pitcher who hasn’t been in a live MLB game since Oct. 18, 2010. The veteran lefty tossed 6.2 innings and let up four earned runs on seven hits. He walked three and struck out two in a 6-2 series finale loss to the Seattle Mariners.

Pettitte really only made two mistakes – a pair of pitches he left out over the plate that Justin Smoak and Casper Wells were able to get around on, each clubbing two-run home runs. Other than showing that little bit of rust, he was his normal self.

But I’m not ready to pass any judgment on his performance. In fact, the subject of this entry has absolutely nothing to do with Pettitte.

Roughly two weeks ago I was on Twitter (might as well call me the “Titan of Twitter” these days) and one of my dear friends, Micheal Robinson, tweeted this:

Right after I read his tweet, I realized how fortunate I am to cover the game of baseball as a member of an exclusive club – the press. Last year the editor at the previous newspaper I worked for covered most of our local High School baseball teams, as I took on the task of basically becoming the girls’ lacrosse beat writer. (I did however cover a small amount of baseball last season).

This year my new editor has given me more baseball games to cover and only a select amount of lacrosse games. It’s easy to say this spring season has been a lot of fun for me.

The only thing I ever wanted to be was a baseball player. I had the opportunity to play at the High School level, but not beyond that. For awhile it bothered me, but lately it’s dawned on me that, albeit right now it’s only at the level I played at, it’s the next best thing.

I might not get to actually play the game organized, but I get to be around it as much as possible.

And as a reporter who’s covered the game at the High School level, I figured I would share some experiences and things a cub reporter can expect covering baseball; the sights, the sounds, and what you pick up on as a journalist.

So for Micheal, and everyone else aspiring to be a baseball writer, this is for you.

Baseball’s National Anthems

Of the dozen or so baseball games I’ve covered this spring, in between innings two songs are usually always blaring through the speakers: Centerfield by John Fogerty and Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. Both of these tunes represent the spirit of the game, and fittingly, I am usually expecting to hear them at every game I go to cover.

 

“Balls in, Comin’ Down!!!”

The average baseball fan knows that before each inning begins, the defense is allowed to warm up. The pitcher tosses to the catcher to get his arm loose, the infielders take grounders, and the outfielders play catch to stay limber.

What the average fan may not know is the terminology used at the end of each warm-up routine. The catcher will yell out the phrase, “Balls in, comin’ down!”

The infielders and outfielders must then throw their warm-up baseballs back to the dugout, and the catcher (on the last warm-up pitch) throws the game ball down to the second baseman – as a practice throw for when a runner tries to steal second base.

If you were to attend a Yankee game, you wouldn’t be able to hear the catcher yell it out, sitting in the stands. But attending or covering a High School game, you hear it all the time, easily.

I remember first hearing the phrase in Little League, and since then, every time I go to a Yankee game I quietly utter it to myself. It’s nice hearing it again whenever I cover a baseball game; it gets me very nostalgic.

The Question

As a reporter, you need materials to cover a game. It should come as no shock that generally a pen and a notepad are required, and a good reporter usually has a recorder, perfect for postgame interviews.

A journalist must keep a good eye on the game and write down everything they see. While covering two games this season, I have been asked the same question; once by a student spectator and once by a parent:

“Are you a scout?”

Both times I just chuckled and replied, “No, I’m just a reporter, here to cover the game.”

I was later told I must have the look of a scout. But I was surprised I was asked the question, especially on more than occasion. After all, I didn’t have a radar gun, an essential tool all scouts bring to baseball games – and reporters don’t.

Amazing Feats

Just because the players I report on are in High School doesn’t mean they aren’t incredible athletes and humble kids. Last year I witnessed something at a High School baseball game that I’ll probably never forget.

On May 7, 2011 I covered an event called the Sorrentino Cup – a game played between Yorktown High School and Lakeland High School here in New York.

A senior pitcher by the name of Jonathan de Marte of Lakeland absolutely shined; he struck out 14 batters, didn’t issue a walk and took a perfect game into the last inning.

He retired the first batter and got himself into a 3-2 count on the second-to-last batter, a player named Jake Matranga.  De Marte left his fastball up in the zone and Matranga blasted it, connecting for a solo home run to break up the perfect game bid.

When the ball flew over the centerfield wall, I couldn’t imagine at that moment what he was thinking; I know I was left in sheer disbelief. He was literally staring the perfecto right in the eye, and with one pitch it was over.

Afterward I interviewed him, expecting him to be down on his luck, even though his team won the game 4-1 to capture the Sorrentino Cup. I had no choice but to anticipate the worst, thinking he would be in a foul mood; losing his perfect game when he was so close to it.

Totally the opposite. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

De Marte had preserved his perfect game the inning before when one of the Yorktown hitters hit a weak ground ball in front of him. He pounced of the mound and made a spectacular play, almost hiking the ball through his legs like a football center to get the out.

“I’d rather lose the perfect game on a home run than on a weak ground ball like that,” de Marte said of the situation. “I’m not too upset about it, I’m just glad we won.”

Words I never thought I’d hear from him. A High School pitcher, yet as professional as Derek Jeter.

De Marte went on to win New York State’s Gatorade Player of the Year – becoming the only player in history to win the award twice. Lakeland was eliminated in the playoffs, falling short of a sectional title. I wrote a story about him winning the Gatorade award, and again, he was just as humble as he was the day he lost the perfect game.

“It’s exciting to be the first player in New York to win it twice in a row, back to back,” he said. “It’s proof that hard work pays off, but I’d trade it in to still be playing.”

In that same interview he told me Tommy John went to one of his games to see him pitch, and even went to his house after the game to give him advice on what to do should he get drafted.

I hope it happens for him.

This year de Marte is pitching at Richmond University in Virginia. Sometime down the line I look forward to hearing about which team he gets drafted to. What he showed me that day – everything from the athleticism and dominant pitching to the dignity and class after the game – he has the makings of a big leaguer.

Broken Records

Some of baseball’s most unbreakable records include Ted Williams batting .406 for an entire season, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, and Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs.

Believe it or not, High Schools keep records, too. And on May 4, at a game I was covering, a pitcher broke one.

At Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. (the same school I met Bernie Williams at) senior pitcher Scott Rose broke the school’s all-time strikeout record by fanning the last batter of the game – his 89th career strikeout to claim the record. He pitched his team to a 7-4 win over visiting Horace Greeley High School.

Funny thing was, he wasn’t even thinking about the record until the last batter.

“I didn’t have it in mind because I wasn’t getting a lot of strikeouts until that inning,” he said. “But once I got that first one in the seventh, it was definitely on my mind for the second. It was cool, but more important that we got the win.”

If Rose goes on to bigger and better things, I’ll be able to say, “He broke his High School’s strikeout record…and I covered the game.”

Family Ties

There is so much more that meets the eye in baseball, more so than any other sport. In 1990, Ken Griffey, Sr. and his son, Ken Griffey, Jr., became the first father and son duo to play on the same team, the Seattle Mariners. That same season, on Sept. 14, they became the first father and son tandem to hit back-to-back home runs.

Crazy to think about.

On April 28, I covered Valhalla High School’s game at Croton-Harmon, two local teams with strong baseball programs. A senior pitcher named Matt Cassinelli started for Valhalla, while his brother, Justin, started at second base.

In the top of the fourth Justin legged out an RBI triple, lacing the ball to deep left-centerfield. The 3-bagger gave Valhalla a 4-0 lead, and they wound up winning the game 4-3.

Justin wound up giving his brother Matt just enough offense to pick up the win.

I asked Matt after the game what he thought about his brother driving in the deciding run, and his response left me in hysterics.

“I think I’ll be cooking a big dinner for him tonight.”

Only in baseball would I have gotten an answer like that.

Solid Sluggers

Right now, the hottest hitter in the majors is undoubtedly Josh Hamilton. Currently the Texas Rangers’ outfielder is batting .402 with 41 RBIs, and is leading the bigs in basically every offensive category.

Hamilton has 18 home runs in this young season, four of which came on the same day. On May 8 he smacked four home runs in one night, dismantling the Baltimore Orioles’ pitching.

Although none of the baseball players I’ve covered have hit four homers in a game, one player crushed two in one day.

The first game I covered this season was a game played between Horace Greeley High School and John Jay-Cross River. John Jay has a strong, well-rounded fundamental squad whereas Greeley possesses a good amount of talent, but really only one power hitter: a senior catcher named Andres Larramendi.

Larramendi will be catching for Princeton University next year, and I quickly found out why he is going to such a great college. On Opening Day he showcased his power, blasting two home runs in his first two at-bats; bombs deep over the left field wall.

I asked him about Princeton after the game, and he told me he couldn’t be more excited to go to a school with such a strong baseball program. As for his multi-home run game:

“I saw two fastballs,” he said. “I was just able to get around on them and put a good swing on them.”

Who knows. I may have covered the next Josh Hamilton that day.

Fantastic Firsts

Typically when a player records their first base hit, the baseball is sent back to the dugout. The team will take it, polish it off, and present it to the player as a memento. As a matter of fact, I remember in my first year playing Little League, I recorded my first hit and my first RBI in one of the last games of the season.

After we won the game, the coaches presented me with the ball, which I still have.

When I got back to the dugout my teammates were so happy for me; they practically jumped on me, whacking my helmet and patting me on the back. Such was the case on April 5 when I covered Briarcliff High School’s Diamond Classic, a tournament they host at the outset of each season.

Briarcliff’s left fielder Spencer Kulman blasted his first varsity level home run, a shot that carried deep over the left field wall. His team retrieved the baseball from behind the fence and gave it to him, but not before they came out of the dugout and congratulated him after he crossed the plate.

He was moved by their gesture.

“It was really nice for them to come out for me like that,” he said. “I’ve hit a couple home runs in practice but never in an actual game. It’s a great feeling.”  

……………………………………………………………..

The only thing I ever wanted to do was play baseball. I am fortunate enough that, even though at a small level, I was able to.

But now, although I’m not playing anymore, I have the next best thing: being around it and involved in it as much as humanely possible. I hope that everyone who loves the game as much as I do can be as lucky as I am, covering such a wonderful sport.

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