Lisa Price/TIMES NEWS Members of the Tamaqua baseball team prepare for a long bus trip to Hilton Head, S.C. The Raiders recently traveled South for a five-day trip that included games and practices.
Snowball fights could be substituted for baseball games.
Perhaps the "lake", that Tamaqua coach Jeff Reading says lies between second and third base on the Raider diamond could be stocked with trout for a fishing tournament.
As absurd as these events may sound, they might be the only outside activities that most area high school baseball teams can have in this month of March.
Howaever, Reading and his Blue Raiders had planned the best solution to the problems that Mother Nature has caused.
Recently Tamaqua returned from a five-day trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina where they not only practiced outside, they played varsity and JV doubleheaders on green grass baseball fields.
"It was a real treat and a great experience for our players, " says Reading. "Just to be able to get out of the cold and snow is one thing, but to actually play on a beautiful field after the winter we have had here made the trip even more special."
The Raiders left on Wednesday, March 12 at 4 p.m. and after what Reading described as a "long, long" bus trip, they arrived at the Hampton Inn in Hilton Head at 6 a.m. on Thursday.
"During the ride down, we showed movies that I had brought," said Reading, who is in his 14th season as Tamaqua's head coach. "Of course, some were baseball flicks like 61 and The Rookie. We also watched a highlight tape of last year's Schuylkill League and District 11 AAA championships."
Upon arriving in Hilton Head and after getting some sleep, the team awakened to 50 degree weather and a Carolinian sunrise. A three and a half hour practice before the Friday and Saturday doubleheaders was held at the Seahawks' high school field on Thursday. Reading was impressed with the entire facility: a sod infield, a short grass outfield, multiple batting cages, a bullpen, and a sprinkler system.
"We gave the kids free time for the rest of Thursday. Some of them took a two mile walk to the beach where they pulled up their shorts and waded out into the ocean," says Reading. " I'm sure that anyone watching could definitely tell our kids were tourists."
The idea for the trip originated from a player's parent who was on vacation in Hilton Head and got the chance to talk to the high school baseball coach. Then, the possibility became a reality when it was discovered that Tamaqua graduate and former Raider baseball player, Robby Hummel owns "Cheap Seats," a restaurant in Hilton Head. He then invited the team. After some vigorous fund raising, enough money was gathered to finance the excursion for 18 players and three coaches. Several parents also took the 14 hour drive to accompany the team.
"I had always thought about taking our team on a trip like this," says Reading. "The band goes out of state for competitions and the football team goes away too, so why not us?"
After a meal and some relaxing games of pool and ping pong at "Cheap Seats," Tamaqua played Hilton Head in a scrimmage game. In a pitching duel, the Raiders took a 2-1 lead into the Seahawk seventh. With two outs and the bases loaded, a line drive was ripped to left field, but sophomore, Zach Coleman made a diving, game saving catch to give the Raiders the win.
On Saturday, the Raiders were back on the bus again for a 45 minute trek to Beaufort to play the Battery Creek Dolphins. Tamaqua got the bats going early and coasted to a 12-1 victory. Junior first baseman, Brett Kosciolek belted a long double off the wall that missed being a home run by inches. For the two games, senior, Ian Nichols and sophomore Matt Minchhoff led the offensive attack. Raider pitchers, who combined to allow just two runs in two games, were on early season pitch counts, so each was limited to two to three innings.
Third baseman, Nicholls, who had six hits in nine at bats for the trip, came home with a good feeling about more than just playing baseball.
"When we got up in the morning, it felt like summer," he says. "When there was down time, we had fun playing cards and other games. I think this trip will really help us play for each other this year."
Senior outfielder Adam Bates enjoyed eating wings, pizza, and a burger at Cheap Seats, but he really loved the field at Hilton Head.
"Their field was as nice as the ones at Blue Mountain and Pottsville," says Bates, who had two hits and two RBI's against Battery Creek. "But the best part of the trip was being together with the team. We're like a second family now."
"It was nice to win both scrimmage games," says Reading, "but the best feature of the trip was the bonding of the players, which is the result of living together for a few days. My staff and I randomly matched up roommates for the hotel. We intentionally did not want best friends with best friends. We feel baseball, just like many other sports, is best played with team chemistry and unity. So this experience was about much more for the kids than just getting out of school and playing baseball.
Kathy Nicholls, Ian's mother and treasurer of the Blue Raiders' Boosters, said that nine accompanying families provided snacks for the players at their own expense.
"To fund the trip, we sold Blue Raider baseball tee shirts, glasses, and poster calendars." she says. "It was all wonderful, but the best part was when we left Tamaqua, there were nine inches of snow on our field and when we got to Hilton Head, my son sent me an instagram saying how beautiful their baseball field was because he could actually see green grass on it.
"They will remember this trip their whole lives," said Nicholls. "Hopefully this is the first year of what will become a tradition."
Reading adds," All the people, from the hotel staff, workers at the restaurant and the baseball coaches we met in Hilton Head were so helpful and gracious. The whole experience was well worth it."
Time will tell if the Raiders have gained any early advantage over their upcoming opponents because of their trip to Hilton Head. For now, the problems left by Ol' Man Winter remain and that might have Tamaqua and other area high school baseball teams post this sign on their fields' backstops for the rest of this month Anyone up for snowball fights or trout fishing?