There is nothing like the start of college baseball season and these first two weeks of the season have already been an experience. Appalachian State is located in the mountains of western North Carolina, which means we are still experiencing every bit of the winter weather. That causes us to have to play a majority of our early-season games on the road much like schools located up north. It seems as if we have been on a bus for weeks with our first 11 games having been away from home. It has been a grind and we as a team are still trying to find our way, but we are fighting hard and have stuck together through all the trials and frustrations. We trust in our preparation and trust in the guys around us and we are so close to fully realizing what this team can be. We believe in each other, know the talent that we possess as a team and are competing to win in all three phases of the game (pitching, hitting and defense).
The one thing that is so great about sports are the relationships you build along the way with current teammates and former ones. Over the past two weekends, I had the chance to play against guys who I have built great friendships with because of the game of baseball.
Two weekends ago, we traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to take on NC State in a three-game series. I had the great opportunity to play high-school baseball with two starters on the Wolfpack: Brett Austin and Jake Fincher. Both are guys who I have a long-standing relationship with and it was great to be able to compete against two high-quality players. Charlotte, N.C. has become known for producing quality baseball talent. During one of the games, there were nine players on the field from the Charlotte area between the two teams.
This past weekend we traveled to Cary, N.C. to play in the USA Baseball-Irish Classic hosted by Notre Dame at the USA Baseball Training Complex. There were numerous high-quality teams in the tournament, led by defending national champion, UCLA. This past Sunday, we took on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in an extra-inning affair that ended with them getting a 4-3 walk-off win.
Like with NC State, there were players on Notre Dame’s team that I have built a great friendship with because of the game of baseball. Last summer, while playing for the North Shore Navigators of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, I had the opportunity to play with and build relationships with Conor Biggio, Forrest Johnson and Blaise Lezynski. All three of those guys became instant friends of mine and I know we will carry our relationship for the rest of our lives. Even though the result of the game didn’t go as we would have liked, seeing those guys after the game reminded me that the game goes so much deeper than the final result. We are given a chance to compete against high-quality players every single day and we are also able to develop life-long friendships with some amazing people.
This game will humble you in a hurry — you hear it all the time at every level of the game. But what I want to remind readers is that there is a lot to the game that goes unseen. I already mentioned the lasting relationships that develop because of it but there are also other beautiful things that often go unnoticed. Guys stepping up off the bench when there names are called, guys playing hurt and grinding for the sake of the ball club. These are all things that often will go unnoticed by the average fan watching a game, but like our head coach Billy Jones pointed out, these are things that will ultimately bring a team together and help every single player realize how special something can be.
Playing for the dogpile.