INSIDE THE DUGOUT TN writer gets inside scoop on high school baseball
- Rich Strack has been covering sports for the Times News for the past decade and has been involved with coaching baseball at all levels for the better part of his adult life. This season, Strack is serving as volunteer coach on the Jim Thorpe varsity staff. He will be doing a weekly column on his experiences “inside the dugout” that will appear Mondays in the Times News during baseball season.)
On the morning of March 15, I shoveled eight inches of snow off the front deck of my townhouse in Lake Harmony.
Three hours later, I was on an hour and 15 minute bus ride with four coaches and 15 players to a town called Fleetwood for a scrimmage game.
Welcome to baseball in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Last summer, Coach Joe Marykwas invited me to be a volunteer assistant coach at Jim Thorpe High School for this season. Having coached the game for many years at this level and all the way down to a team of six year- olds, I’m looking forward to sharing my insights with him and the coaching staff to help our team.
Here’s the bonus. I get to be in the dugout with my son while he plays his final year at Thorpe. I told him, “There will be two seniors from the same family on the JT team this year.” He actually thought that was funny.
At the field in Fleetwood, the temperature hovered in the forties, but the winds whipped into our faces at 30 miles per hour. I looked around at the players “warming up” while wearing ski masks and hoodies under their uniforms. I asked a few guys on our team if they were cold and of course, they’re teenagers so they lied and said no. We coaches don’t have to be “cool” anymore. We tell the truth and the truth is, this wasn’t baseball. This was freezeball!
When I looked across the diamond at the Fleetwood coach wearing a ski hat over his head, I heard Brian Schwartz, one of our coaches say, “I could use a hot shower and a bowl of chicken soup right about now.”
We had been stuck in the gym for the good part of a month hitting soft tosses in a batting cage and taking ground balls outside the three- point arc on the basketball hardwood. Our pitchers threw off a wooden mound with a crack that was right down the middle, what I used a line of demarcation for the hurler’s stride foot.
When we did step out into the elements, the baselines on our field were ninety foot streaks of mud pies so a diamond was set up on the turf football field where coach Neil Yurchak hit groundballs in the red zone and coach Tim Hubbard lifted flyballs toward the goal line.
The scrimmage against the Fleetwood Giants - that’s not their mascot, that’s my nickname based on the size of their players - could have easily been a little intimidating. Nearly every player on the Fleetwood roster was six feet tall or bigger - several of them much taller. They scored on us early and late in the seven-inning contest. Meanwhile, until the fourth inning we had no baserunners.
But baseball is a funny game. Once we got a hit, we got another, and another, and some bloop hits and a blast over the next three innings and before you knew it, we had put up seven runs - if anybody was keeping score.
We went from the gym to a baseball field in one large leap. Our team - like every other in the area - will now bare the blustery winds and the all too frequent ice cold drizzle that runs down the back of our neck and travels right to the bones as the regular season begins.
No matter. The sun is always shining down on what I believe is the greatest game in the world. So step over the white lines and onto the diamond with me for a close look at high school baseball from inside the dugout.
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