LEBANON – They didn’t turn on the scoreboard, but they did lime the field.
They didn’t hire umpires, but they did call balls and strikes.
They didn’t have all of their focus, but there was a fair share of discipline.
It smelled and sounded and felt like baseball. They referred to it as a ‘friendly’, an ‘exhibition’, a ‘scrimmage’.
But for some, it was the most meaningful game they will ever play.
On a humid Monday night at Fifth Ward Athletic Field, teams made up of many of the members of the Cedar Crest and Lebanon High School varsity baseball teams played nine innings of baseball. The only one in attendance keeping score was the reporter, who had the Falcons ahead of the Cedars 7-4 when the contest ended – and the players tipped their hats to one another instead of shaking hands.
It was the second such informal meeting between the partial Cedar Crest and Lebanon squads, on a Monday night in July. Both sides promised to play as many more summer Monday nights as the current and unprecedented circumstances would allow.
For some, it was their first swing at organized baseball in nearly 12 months. The coronavirus had stolen the game they love this spring, during the high school season, and this summer, during the Lebanon County American Legion season.
Last night provided the competitors an opportunity to renew old acquaintances – and rivalries – take a couple of hacks and experience what could’ve been. And of course, a chance to get dirty.
If you stage it, they will come.
“The importance of the game can’t be overstated,” said Cedar Crest head coach Josh Brown. “It’s not just baseball, it’s all sports, it’s the camaraderie. Sports teach kids something the class room does not. It helps with life. It’s tough being inside all the time, psychologically and mentally, especially at the high school and college levels. They’ve (the players) lost a lot.”
“You don’t know how much you miss the stuff until you lose it,” said Lebanon American Legion head coach Greg Kreiser. “To me, it’s just about getting kids out here to play baseball. It’s about having fun playing baseball. This might be the last time that some of these kids play.”
Sure, there may have been some rust on both sides. But there was also a noticeable spring in everyone’s step from just being out there, between the lines.
Cedar Crest scored five times in the bottom of the eighth inning to snap a two-all tie. Austin Beard’s two-run single was sanwiched around a run-scoring safety from Braden Boyd, a Noah Gonzalez RBI and Jack Beazley’s sacrifice fly.
“Everything went great,” said Brown, who doubled as an umpire, calling balls and strikes from a position behind the pitcher.. “All this was about was getting kids out to play and getting the seniors out to play. We were trying to do the best we can to get the seniors out, and having as much fun as we can. It’s good to get out, after what we went through.
“You could see little mistakes, but you can’t get too worked up about it,” continued Brown. “Overall, it was a heck of a baseball game. It was fairly, fundamentally sound.”
“It’s just so good to be out playing baseball,” said Kreiser. “This is the greatest game in the world. It’s better than any other game.
“The pitching’s way ahead of the batting,” added Kreiser. “That’s just from not being able to get swings.”
The contest was score-less until the Falcons posted a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Lebanon responded with Albert Rodriguez’s two-out RBI-single in the top of the fifth and Julien Coleman’s RBI-hit in the top of the eighth.
“It’s been difficult for these kids, especially the seniors,” said Brown. “They all lost a year. We were going to have a pretty darn good team (in the spring). You could see how much these kids missed the game by how much fun they had.
“Being around all these kids, it makes you feel like you did a little something for them,” Brown added. “And by all the people who came out, you can see it’s so important.”
“We had the high school season cancelled before the first scrimmage,” said Kreiser. “Then things turned into months. The legion cancelled the season in April, which I thought was way too soon.
“I think eventually, close to the end of this thing, we’ll bring up some of the younger kids to play, just to see what we’re going to have next year,” Kreiser continued. “But this was about giving those seniors a chance to play some baseball, which was the most important part of it.”