Falling forward with GW Baseball

Media Credit: Hats, gloves and shoes line the Colonials' bench. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

Updated: Nov. 2, 2015 at 11:21 a.m.

This post was written by Hatchet senior staff writer Josh Solomon.

“Defeat, particularly dramatic defeat, confirms our worst image of ourselves.”

—Roger Kahn, “Boys of Summer,” 1972

His humming carries on even though the radio is off. “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, my oh my what a wonderful day…” We wait for the light to change on 23rd Street to drive down toward the Lincoln and then turn onto the highway to Virginia. There’s three of us in the car, but little chatter. He just continues to sing his little tune before we arrive to practice. “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-A, my oh my what a wonderful day.”

For the last few words he drags out the note, singing it like it really is a beautiful day for baseball. It’s a gray day and the windshield wipers are on.

The driver passes me his iPhone 6 Plus to show me an article on D1baseball.com about college stadiums. It’s an arms race type of conversation – one in which you never feel as if you have the best. Who has the biggest dugout? The scoreboard with the most gadgets? The turf that heats from below? Whose alumni spend the most to renovate the ballparks?

Driving through the light rain on one of the final days of September, we’re almost at Barcroft Park, also known as The Tuck, GW baseball’s home field out in Arlington, Va. I have some nerves building up because it’s my first day at the field this year, first time seeing the team after they had lost in the conference championships back in May.

I’m listening to this conversation we’re having but understand I still have no clue what story I’m going to write. The pitch: go to practice and write about baseball. The angle: I’ve covered the team for three straight years, starting my freshmen year, and now they’re getting to be pretty decent.

Back then, access was limited at times to just on-field player interviews after the game, with the occasional few questions directed to the assistant coach. The team was awful to start, back in 2013, losing nine straight to open the season. Then they started to buy into the system and it clicked down the stretch to one of their most successful seasons in recent history. Now in my senior year, the team’s rebuilding story is familiar to me. I’ve covered nearly all of their games. This year I finally had my act together enough to organize to get out to fall practice. Now the story just had to materialize.

There are seven seniors on the team: Randy Dalrymple, Bobby LeWarne, Luke Olsen, Matthieu Robert, Gabe Scott, Jacob Williams and Andy Young. They’re for the most part good ballplayers, some of whom will contend for All-Conference awards come the spring, but you don’t really need to know any of them right now. Save those names for the spring.

The key name here is Gregg Ritchie, the GW baseball team’s head coach, who was once an All-American at the school and went onto become a professional ballplayer and the hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his office is a picture of him and former MVP Andrew McCutchen, among many other things, like the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year award from his inaugural season in 2013, a whiteboard with the team’s depth chart (always subject to change), prominent dates of the fall season, culminating with the first annual Buff and Blue World Series in late October, which was on my agenda, and the team’s sayings written typically in red ink and posted anywhere else possible ‒ the walls, the doors, near the stairway. This year it’s “Grit and Gratitude,” in addition to last year’s “Attitude and Effort.”

After leaving Ritchie’s office, we headed to the car. Out of the elevator and stepping into the parking lot garage under South Hall, Ritchie stops and looks at me. “Here’s a secret,” he says.

He takes off his hat and shows me the under to the bill of his cap. It reads in bold sharpie lettering, FEW. “That stands for focus, enthusiasm, work,” he says, slowly and definitively. “Be one of the few.”

“You strive to reach your goal everyday,” Ritchie said. “That’s what continues to push you forward in anything you do, whether it’s get a degree, whether it’s get married, whether it’s have children, whether it’s play baseball and get a ring. When you don’t quite achieve what you’re pushing toward there is a disappointment. Like I said, at the same time, how you did and how you went about it, the forward moving progress, there’s a tremendous amount of joy.”

That was after his team’s final game of the season last school year, ending the season in the second round of the conference championship. They were up 1‒0 in the eighth inning with two outs – and then Davidson scored two runs. They rallied with two outs in the ninth with back to back singles, but then lost the game 2‒1 as the two-hole hitter swung at ball four. Then the summer started for the team, Saturday, May 23.

“That’s a ball! There it is DiVeglio, adversity. You got to put adversity into it. You got practice it,” Ritchie says.

Junior Brandon Ritchie is pitching in an inter-squad game here in late September. I’m sitting behind home plate with Dan DiVeglio, the Sports Information Director for baseball, and Coach Ritchie. Pitching is the 6-foot-2-inch Pittsburgh area pitcher, of no relation to his coach. There’s a screen up right behind the catcher, so the three of us are sitting less than a few feet behind the catcher. Meanwhile the rain has cleared up. (Oh, what a day.)

“You know what I’m talking about? You need adversity. Hiiiii! Ball four,” Gregg Ritchie says. He’s talking to us, but he’s also umpiring the game when he chooses. Rest of the time, it’s the catcher who is calling balls and strikes. “His issue is adversity not stuff. So first pitch – I didn’t call a ball. Catcher called a ball. He questioned the catcher. It’s a ball. So now what? You throw the next pitch five feet more off and you get behind 3‒0 and then we throw ball four. It’s adversity.”

The game continues and the environment is pretty relaxed and pretty mechanical. No player seems particularly tense and no play made seems particularly extraordinary. The Buff and Blue World Series is in less than a month, in which the staff will hold a “draft” that acts more like captains picking teams in the school yard, to split the squad up to play each other in a three game weekend series, just like during the regular season. They will even have hired umpires on hand. For now, it’s fairly laid back.

The catcher calls strike on a ball out over the middle-outer half of the plate.

“If your approach is what your approach is, that ball should be crushed,” Gregg Ritchie says.

Next pitch, it’s the crack of the bat. Well, really it’s the sound that a metal bat makes, hit by junior Eli Kashi – part of a starting infield core group from the large junior class which made up a majority of the team’s roster when they were the youngest team in the country two years ago. It’s decently hit, but a ground ball in the hole, between first and second. The second baseman makes a nice play on the ball to record the out.

Junior Eli Kashi tests his core strength with a drill during batting practice. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
Junior Eli Kashi tests his core strength with a drill during batting practice. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

“That’s a nice play. Instead we’ll take a 4‒3 on a pitch you can’t hit, the pitch you can hit,” Ritchie says as Kashi runs down the line.

“Kash [pronouncing it like Cash, although his full last name is pronounced with a long ‘a,’ like the cereal], what are you doing on the first pitch? You’re eliminating what?” the coach asks.

“Inside,” his third baseman replies.

“OK, and you’re sitting out over a ball all over the plate,” Ritchie says. “Don’t make me tell you again that your approach is to be on that ball when you’re not taking a pitch. That ball is your pitch. If you are to lock your approach in, get back where you were, you have to start offering at those pitches, OK? Instead of a 4‒3 ground ball. Got it?”

“Gotcha,” Kashi says and then he starts to walk away. He is usually one of the more energetic players on the team, rarely without a smile.

“You look good today. Nice haircut,” Ritchie yells his way before he makes it back to the dugout. Kashi gives a laugh and a thank you type of head nod.

Ritchie turns to us: “A little bit of sugar with a little bit of salt. The wound stung for a second – I got a lollipop.”

An audience now gathers, a crowd of one in the bleachers.

“How you doing sir?” Ritchie asks, turning his body and his attention to the man, for the time being.”

“Hey, fine. How you are all?” an older gentleman, with a gut covered by a tie-dye T-shirt, and a near bald head capped by a beige Maryland hat says. His face also features a fuzzy, grey mustache.

“Doing alright. Whatcha got going on?” Ritchie asks.

“Nothing. Just watching the game.”

“Got a dog there with ya, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Atta babe. Battle him up. Battle him. Battle him up, Gibby!”

Junior Colin Gibbons-Fly is at the plate in the scrimmage.

“GW against who?” the dog owner asks.

“GW. We’re going to win today,” Ritchie replies.

“Some of these guys will go pro. Heh?”

“That’s the thought,” Ritchie continues under his breath, changing his attention. “I dare you to throw a curveball.”

Crack. Foul ball.

Next pitch. Pound. The sound of the catcher’s mitt. Ball.

“Attaboy, attaboy, attaboy. C’mon Gibby. Tough as nails Gibby. C’mon kid!” Ritchie says and then switches to under his breath again. “C’mon, bait yourself into throwing. C’mon, pay for it.”

“Good luck, hope you win!” the man chimes in.

“Thank you man. What kind of dog you got going on there?”

“He’s a full-fledged schnauzer, and it’s more timid than people.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, people are afraid it because it’s a big dog, but it’s scared of people.”

“Why is he scared?”

“It’s just some dogs they just grow up.”

“Does he not socialize?”

“No, plenty of socializations. It’s just personality. They have personalities like we do.”

“Yup, he gets along with dogs?”

“Yeah, except for a couple of dogs he doesn’t like. But that’s like people you know.”

“Particular breed?”

“No.”

“No?”

“Just a couple dogs he just detests.”

“Cool, what’s his name?” He doesn’t hear the question Ritchie asks. The dog owner is watching the game, but then enters back into the conversation.

“We’re the same. We get to know people and say, ‘I do not like that person,’” the owner says.

“So you don’t like people?” Ritchie asks.

“I like dogs,” the dog owner says. “I like dogs almost better than people because—”

Ritchie laughs, adding in his analysis of this game he’s now in, “Alright. It’s all about relationships now, isn’t it?”

“Well yeah,” the dog owner says.

“It is. It’s all about relationships. That’s what this is right here. It’s all about relationships,” Ritchie motions to the field, to his players.

“Yeah, that’s your family.”

“You got that right.”

Pound of the mitt. The catcher yells ball.

“And if your baseball team isn’t your family, then they’re going to lose no matter what,” the owner says.

“Summer has come and passed/ The innocent can never last/ Wake me up when September ends…”

It’s now the end of the first week in October, but the song comes on the radio. Senior pitcher Jacob Williams is in the driver’s seat of one of the the team vans. They’re about to head to practice the day before they host the Ontario Blue Jays, an 18-and-under amateur baseball team from Toronto, for a 14-inning affair. Every year a team can play one international team and not have it count against its schedule. Tomorrow is the day for them. This Friday afternoon, Williams and the teammates corralled in his van scream “it’s Green Day!” as the song comes on. Some of them belt the lyrics.

“Alright, let’s get this over with. Am I happy to be back for another year? Yeah, I’m really excited. What it comes down to is that I’m excited to be a part of an organization like this where we have great publicists, great assistant coach, great baseball operations guy, so if I can just lock it up in the classroom, figure it out, you know I’m only a 4.0 away this semester.”

I’m at the field for by no means more than 15 minutes and the jokester, sophomore Matt Cosentino comes up to DiVeglio and I with these remarks in what one would imagine to be the professional voice a ballplayer should be speaking in. He looks straight at him, not breaking character, as I stand there, waiting for my turn of an interview.

The questions will follow, in the penultimate day for me, because the next day I see the team, they will be dressed for game day for the Buff and Blue World Series.

It’s a light day of practice since the team has the 14 inning game the next morning. In fact, Ritchie hasn’t showed up to practice yet, but everything is running smoothly. The schedule is posted in the dugout, the “Grit and Gratitude” saying written above it, and everyone is going about their business. A couple weeks later and the team seems a little more focused.

The team is taking batting practice for the day, including pitchers. They are already divided into groups. The first one gets up to the plate and the rest head to the field to shag fly balls. I take my glove from out of my book bag and join some of the guys in center field.

The Colonials celebrate after a home run is hit in batting practice. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
The Colonials celebrate after a home run is hit in batting practice. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

About half an hour before, the position players were still batting. Guys were hanging around and chatting among themselves in the outfield. Then Ritchie showed up to practice. Within minutes he found himself with a bat taking his own round of batting practice. He still holds the GW single-season batting average record, hitting 0.479 in 1986. He takes a few hacks but nothing noteworthy. Last year he hit a ball off the scoreboard over the high wall in right field. It left a dent and he would love to talk about it to his players. Everyone’s watching, and when he finishes taking a handful of pitches you can see the looks of relief on the guys’ faces.

A few more batters go and then he gets back up to the plate. He takes some swings. Then he takes some swings crouching down. Then he gets further down. I can see it right from the outfield. Yes, he is now on his ass swinging at pitches, knocking some of them to the outfield. He then climbs into what would seem like an imaginary bunker, hitting with just his hands while laying down on his stomach. Then he turns the bat around and takes some cue shots.

It’s tough to see exactly what’s going on at this point, but all the players around me just shake their heads. The look of “again.” Yet, they still talk about the fact that he’s still able to do this, understanding his emphasis on simplifying hitting to just the hands, and to only the mental side of the game.

I head over to junior Joey Bartosic a little later on. We stand toward the warning track in center, his stomping grounds, and the leadoff hitter admits the importance of all the antics.

“The fall drags. It’s a two month stand of nothing but practice. We’ve all got classes. Right now we’re in midterm weeks and you got coach Ritchie out there consistently bringing the energy, kind of gets the team fired up like this. We were all tired on the vans out here. Once he comes out here and brings energy like that, it’s hard not to rival that energy a little bit. It gets guys going. It’s fun. It’s contagious,” Bartosic says.

Bartosic is one of the team’s leaders. Although captains are not clear on the team, it’s clear he’s one of the Colonials’ main men. He led the team with a 0.327 batting average last season. He shattered the school’s all-time hit streak record last year too, with 24 straight hits to the previous mark of 15 hits. The team also collects stickers on their helmets, a sign of who’s doing the right things under the coaching staff’s eyes, and his lid is always covered.

“It’s been a lot more calm this fall because we have a lot of guys returning,” Bartosic says.

I feel like I’m standing in his living room out here. I feel like I’m sitting in his space on his couch. I feel like I took the remote for a moment. Bartosic is looking over toward me occasionally, but he’s focused on patrolling center field, all of it. About 10 of his teammates are standing in front of us, on top of the “GW” logo in center. Others are scattered to our left and right. The pitchers are batting, so not much will reach us out here near the warning track anyway.

“It is weird playing in September,” Bartosic continues. “Your season doesn’t really start until February, March, so it’s hard to remain focused the entire time but once we get out here and, I don’t know, it’s hard to remain focused, but as you can. We’re all messing around a bit. There’s definitely a sense of, ‘We got to get things done.’ We’re definitely doing things the right way. Getting ready for the spring, kind of proving ourselves a little bit.”

The guys standing on the GW logo, led by junior Bobby Campbell, have broken Bartosic’s laser sharp focus. They’ve formed a human chain, daring the pitchers to hit it toward them. Bartosic loses his train of thought as we watch balls approach them but never reach them as they holler at any ball that comes close. He and I start to crack up.

A couple pitches later and a ball flies over their heads. Bartosic quickly makes a move to catch the ball. The guys in center groan, upset the ball went too far!

“You keep calling me off,” I joke with him.

He laughs, but he also knows that this is his living room out here.

“But yeah, I would say the fall.”

Oh, here comes another ball this way.

“You got it, this is you!” A little applause from the other guys breaks out and I throw the ball in.

“I would say the fall is more just buying into what coach Ritchie preaches, getting our mentality down, making a name for what we’re going to be as a team, what our identity is going to be so that when the actual season comes around, we just go out there and play and do what we can do.”

“Obviously the way last year ended was obviously very rough,” I say.

“Yeah.”

“How did you take that into the summer, and how do you bring that out to now?”

“We talked after the season,” Bartosic says. “Obviously we didn’t get the result we wanted. But the growth between my freshmen year, we were a 20 and 30 team, to the next year when we were a whatever 32 and 21 team, and pretty much with the exact same players we had my freshman year. I think we all realized that while it wasn’t perfect, we definitely accomplished something and it’s something to build off of.”

I moved over to left field to talk to last year’s freshman phenom. Robbie Metz, a fairly quiet kid from Poolesville, Md. is probably the most constantly focused player on the team. If there was a range, Metz would be on one side, Campbell might be on the other and Bartosic would fall somewhere slanted toward the Metz side. When I jogged over to him, he was the only one patrolling left field at the time, the pull for most of the pitchers batting in the final grouping. Away from the shenanigans in center, Metz was sprinting for balls in the gap and rushing in for short fly balls.

“For me, I didn’t play in the summer, so I was ready to get back with the boys and hang out a little bit and get back to work. It was a tough season last year ending it that way. I mean it was a 2‒1 game, in the eighth inning we lost it, so I was just ready to get back and get back into it and get ready for the next season,” Metz says.

It’s still fresh in his head. Maybe because he didn’t have other summer baseball to play to form new memories. He was one of the league’s top starting pitchers for a long period of last year’s season. He also was one of the top hitters in the league. Fatigue got to him in his rookie campaign, though. He looks fresh again and he will be one the day-one starters for the Buff and Blue World Series.

“This year we’re loose but we also have a goal. We’re more determined this year to definitely win the A-10s. Last year we were young, but still we had the goal of winning A-10s and we just didn’t, we didn’t. I don’t want to say give our best, but we didn’t get there. So I mean this year we’re definitely giving it our best and are ready for A-10s.”

“Does it feel more realistic this year?” I ask him as we head in, at the conclusion of batting practice for the day and just the infield/outfield drill left in the day’s orders.

“Yeah, definitely,” Metz says. “We’re older, but we have playoffs under our belt. We know what we have to do and we know what it takes this year.”

“How do you not get burnt out?”

“We always have fun out here. We’ll have fun warming up, but once we get underway with practice we start gritting down and start doing our business,” Metz says.

The team breaks apart, getting ready to conclude practice. I head to the dugout, ready to watch the final part. Ritchie stops me and looks at me. “What position did you play?” I tell him shortstop. I immediately regret that with an arm that is about four years removed from being in condition. “Well get out there,” he says.

I jog out to the position. Cosentino starts to warm me up while others look at me. Some of the guys on the team know who I am, others, many of whom I’ve had never had the opportunity to interview, probably just see me as a guy in a button down and khakis. At least I’m wearing my Nikes?

DiVeglio sees me out there and sees that the team is ready to start infield/outfield (I/O). He motions for me to come back in. Seconds later, Ritchie again: “What are you doing in here? Get back out there!”

Reporter no more, I head out to field my position. Out comes junior Kevin Mahala, the 6-foot-3-inch shortstop, with pro prospects. After the Buff and Blue World Series a scout for the Orioles hanging around was talking to Ritchie. He’s asking him about players, telling him about the maturity of the team. “You know who you should be looking at? Kevin Mahala.” The scout, a young guy, looking nothing like your typical old scout, former baseball player type. He responds quickly, “I already got that tip.” Mahala came into college as a third baseman, while Kashi and Metz came in as shortstops and now play third and second, respectively. Mahala had a crummy season at the plate last year, though, batting 0.258, but come the World Series his bat looks better than ever. The ball is jumping off his bat, consistently. He also has your classic team captain smile, full of big, pearly whites, complimenting his blue eyes. The man plays the part of a star. Ritchie has been high on him since his freshman year, calling him a 5-tool player with pro-talent.

Mahala starts to explain to me what I have to do. I nod my head a lot and try to remember back to my high school days. Of course the college version is a little more complicated. Ground ball, shoot home. Ground ball, throw to first, one, one, one. Cover two, tag. Spin! Throw three. Hustle back. Get ready for a pop fly. Don’t throw it in though. Just toss it back. Stay back there. Take a grounder deep in the hole. Slow rollers now. Bring it in. High fives down the line. It was fast, by the end I worked up a big sweat.

By the end, it seemed so slow for everyone else. Less because they are Division I athletes and I am not, but more so because their chemistry is tough to find anywhere else in the country. A starting infield with guys who have now played two going on three years together and probably four to come. The game moves fluidly between them, while I look to just hang in there. It’s tough to see chemistry in motion up in the press box.

Hats, gloves and shoes line the Colonials' bench. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
Hats, gloves and shoes line the Colonials’ bench. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

I go over and talk to junior Eddie Muhl after all of this. I get back to my job, trying to talk to one of the nation’s leading closers from last year (and GW’s all-time saves leader at 18).

“Having the same core group of guys is a big help. You come into a locker room that already has chemistry. You just know what everybody is about and how they’re motivated and it really does help. The cohesion of this team is growing already and it’s only October,” Muhl says.

“Do you feel like a veteran out here?”

“Uh.”

“Too early to say?”

“Too early to say,” Muhl says. “I mean just a couple months ago I was the kid out here. It does feel nice to be used to everything and they way things work, but veteran, I wouldn’t say so yet.”

When Muhl walks around, pitchers follow. When Muhl sits down in the dugout and spits seeds others sit around and follow suit. He might have just been the kid but he’s also one of the nation’s top closers. He’s also a big guy at 6-foot-4-inches, 225 pounds, so his presence can always be felt.

“I’d say that we all know what jobs we have and we do what we gotta do to take care of those jobs. There’s definitely guys with a lot of leadership qualities on this team, but like you said, it’s not really centralized. Every guy knows his role, knows his job and is prepared to take it out to help the team,” Muhl says.

It’s 7:31 a.m. on a Sunday, the Deli is closed, the sun isn’t out quite yet and there’s a light drizzle coming down. Most of the players walk the empty streets by the Smith Center in a bit of a daze, holding purchases from the Shenkman Hall Dunkin Donuts. Inside one of the vans its sober silence aside from the radio, “This is my fight song…”

The only chatter is to try to find a route to the ballpark on the day of the Marine Corps Marathon. We head to The Tuck so that the players can compete for the third day in a row, dressed in respective buff and blue uniforms to play a rubber match.

They’re getting loose. “Fettttty Wap!” Campbell croons, with a radio dial change. Well, Campbell, sitting shotgun, is definitely getting loose. The rest of the guys remain pretty relaxed as the van gets close to the field.

The gates are still locked when we arrive. Soon enough the coaches arrive and it’s time to head to each other’s respective dugouts. The Buff and Blue teams each have one win, and bragging rights on the line.

“After the first game, after we won, blue team didn’t want to lift with us. We had two separate lifting groups. Instead of pitchers and hitters, we had blue and buff. It was definitely heated,” Mahala said after the game. By the end of Sunday’s affairs, the temperatures would be dialed up.

When you walk into Blue’s dugout Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” plays from assistant coach Dave Lorber’s phone. Bobby LeWarne, who pitched Friday, turns to Lorber to give him some advice. “If you need a walk off home run today, I’m your man,” he says. “I brought my cleats.”

“I had a friend was a big baseball player/ back in high school/ He could throw that speedball by you/ Make you look like a fool boy.”

The Boss continues to play in the dugout, although only some of the pitchers are hanging around at this point. The rest have gone to their pregame stretching routines.

“Lorber’s music sucks. It’s all John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. ’Radio Remix,'” Muhl says to me. He shakes his head and switches the song. “Matchbox 21, I could live with that.”

I ask Lorber if there’s any pressure to win today, to defeat his colleagues in the visitor team dugout, while Ritchie wanders the stands. There’s a crowd of parents and family who gather to watch Sunday’s game. A full house by the final pitches.

“You look over there, Brandon Ritchie is nervous. He’s got to pitch in the rain. Look at our game, Sheinkop’s sitting here half asleep,” Lorber says. “And there’s junior Jordan Sheinkop, lounging in the dugout with Muhl and the other pitchers.”

On the opposite side there’s some trash talk posted on the wall. One sheet of typed paper reads “If you lick from the lollipop of average, you will suck forever.”

The game soon begins, with a crowd filing in under clearing-up skies, in front of an officially umpired ballgame. Neither pitcher had anything. Sheinkop went 0.1 innings, recording one out on his way to four earned runs, including a grand slam to Larry McCabe. When McCabe crossed home he mouthed “I’m sorry.”

Brandon Ritchie didn’t do much better. He recorded a total of two outs, giving up three runs, all earned to the Blue team. A team-imposed pitch-count limit on starters and relievers particularly shortened their outings, but neither pitcher had much. After all, it’s not even spring training yet.

It was a fairly evenly matched affair. Buff was in the lead 5‒3 headed to the bottom of the fourth. With little pitching, the game was only supposed to go seven innings. With even less pitching than expected after the respective starts, the game was shortened to five innings.

In a time of careful strategy, Buff decided to go to a position player to bail out junior transfer Shane Sweeney from a jam. Mahala wanted to pitch but was denied the request. Instead it was the third baseman, senior Andy Young. He held his own, but he’s not a pitcher. By the end of the inning Buff trailed 8‒5, with a five-run fourth for Blue. The score would be final after Muhl threw 2.1 innings to close it. Pitching won the game in the Buff and Blue World Series.

“The way we built up for this for it to break down the fall as opposed to a normal inter-squad and just going through the motions kind of,” Mahala says. “This kind of we built to this. We really stayed a part of it. Like I said, we lifted in different groups. So it’s meant a lot to us.”

Kashi, who was on the winning side, was a little less serious.

“Oh, it’s great. It’s great. We worked all summer. All summer we were ready for this and all fun. We took it home. We took it home. Good guys won,” he says, putting on an official, TV type of voice.

He quickly shifted back to his usual interview voice though.

“It’s good to see too because it was also a very evenly matched series,” Kashi says. “It’s good because everybody competed and there are moments you look and you’re like, ‘Wow, this year we have some good tools we can mix in and some good stuff going on.’ It’s exciting, real exciting.”

The last man to talk to was Ritchie. His coaching staff’s brainchild, the Buff and Blue World Series, was now in the books, likely to be repeated in the future.

“We became a little bit more of a family through this, through this thing. Because brothers do argue,” Ritchie says and then laughs. “Brothers do argue.”

“Blue gets to be the older brother for—”

“Yeah, just for a moment. Yeah, for a moment.” He says and then laughs again.

The fall season with the World Series conclusion is essentially over. The team still has their annual Halloween costume dress up. They also have team paintball, a year after team laser tag (Metz is the sharp shooter everyone wants on their team, although they’ll probably stay split Buff and Blue.)

“I think in the beginning of the fall, we came out with kind of this cautious calm,” Ritchie says. “There was a slight lack of intensity. And then once we had a discussion about what we experienced and what we were going to do from here on out, the intensity level has increased throughout the fall, all the way leading up to this. I think that’s how you want your fall to be. You want it to be developmental in that way, not like physically but also that mental way.”

After everyone finished eating at the post game barbecue on the premises, the players piled the vans again.

I climb into one and am greeted by the usual lovely commentary from the team. “Oh shit! Hatchet’s here. Gotta watch what we say.”

Country music plays this time. There’s the usual talk of fantasy football. Then Scott chimes in, “Can we all go back to being friends?”

“Nope,” another remarks back in the front of the van.

LeWarne is driving the van and soon he’s faced with his biggest issue of the day, a trust test of attitude and effort, of grit and gratitude, of the team’s chemistry to make cohesive decisions quickly – the Marine Corps Marathon road closures are now in effect, now that the sun’s no longer rising.

“There are cones here,” LeWarne says.

“Guys, we fucked up.”

There’s a quick scramble to figure out what road to take with the usual exit closed off.

“OK, you gotta take 66,” a teammate chimes in with a final suggestion, but one of no use to LeWarne.

“What the fuck does that mean?” he says. “I’m from Iowa.”


This post has been updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly identified the player who hit a grand slam during the Buff and Blue World Series. It was Larry McCabe, not Gabe Scott. We regret this error.

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