BY JEFF FALK
It exhibited most of the traits of all the great success stories.
It was rooted in failure. It took on a life of its own. And it displayed heavy overtones of self-actualization.
But ultimately, it became more about what happened off the field, in the dugout and within the team than what went on on the diamond.
The summer of 2017 which was the Fredericksburg baseball team’s uplifting season will be remembered for everything that is good and right and pure about sports.
On Wednesday at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field, during the second day of the Pennsylvania State American Legion Baseball tournament, Fredericksburg’s wondrous journey reached an anti-climactic conclusion. But in no way did it diminish what Post 915 had accomplished and where it came from.
“I’m going to miss these kids,” said Fredericksburg head coach Tim Schaeffer. “It was a fun, fun summer. Stressful, but fun. I don’t think the kids felt that pressure. Those older guys have to be leaders, and if they’re doing their jobs, the other kids will follow.
“That’s pretty special,” continued Schaeffer. “These kids will never forget that, the time they had together when they basically became brothers. I had guys taking off work to play baseball. It was really a lot of fun.”
For a variety of reasons – some of which were explainable and some of which weren’t – Fredericksburg just wasn’t itself at the eight-team, double-elimination state tournament.
Representing Region Four and the first Lebanon County club to qualify for the event in 24 years, F-burg opened play in the event on Tuesday by dropping a 5-1 decision to reigning state champion Swoyersville. Then on Wednesday, Fredericksburg valiantly fought back from a late 6-2 deficit before enduring a 10-6, 13-inning, campaign-ending loss to Wesleysville.
Fredericksburg posted an overall record of 25-9.
“On the first day, we didn’t hit the ball real well,” said Schaeffer. “We struck out too many times. We weren’t on our game, and I really don’t know why. In the second game, we played well. We had opportunities to win the game and didn’t cash in. We pulled it together and came back. We had opportunities to close the deal and just didn’t do it.
“They (states and regionals) were two different things,” added Schaeffer. “I think we were too high for regionals. We were on an emotional high for four days and we needed come back down. Win or lose, I was so proud of those kids. They came together all year long and it was really special to watch. Us going to states this year, I think it’s going to mean a major boost to our program in the future.”
Fredericksburg’s performance at the Region Four tournament it hosted at Earl Wenger Memorial Field was both dramatic and historic, and the highlight of the Lebanon County sports scene this summer.
An opening day setback to Pleasureville put the hosts behind the proverbial eight-ball, but it also served to bring out the best in F-burg. Through five do-or-die contests, Fredericksburg simply refused to relent and their magical run culminated with a pair of inspiring and draining wins on the final day.
“The most special thing I will remember was the kids piling on each other on the mound at the end of regionals,” said Schaeffer. “I paused for a moment and I was like, ‘This really did happen.’ When I look back at it, I remember what people were saying about us and how it ended up.
“What stood out to me is everybody who needed to do their job did their job,” Schaeffer continued. “We asked guys to pitch at regionals who hadn’t pitched all year, and our guys at the bottom of the lineup started hitting. Our defense was pretty much spot on. We didn’t have too many errors. We emphasized that strongly.”
Fredericksburg played with a chip on its shoulder all regular season long. F-burg was motivated by last year’s upset loss to Annville in the Lebanon County American Legion championship series, and spurred on by what it saw as a lack of respect for not being considered the pre-season favorite to win the league.
Hosting regionals was also a source of inspiration for Post 915.
“From the very beginning, our goal was to win the league,” said Schaeffer. “That was our absolute goal. We wanted to earn a trip to regionals. From Day One, we didn’t want to back in. Everybody’s expectations – except our’s – was that we were going to have a down year. It doesn’t matter how many superstars you have. It’s if you can play as a team. Everybody was on the same page.”
The key to Fredericksburg’s success may have been its unique make-up, it’s combination of hitting, defense and pitching. And it’s mixture of youth and experience. It’s concoction of leadership and chemistry.
“That’s critical,” said Schaeffer. “You can have the nine best players in the league on a team and that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win baseball games. You’ve got find that right mix. We had a lot of good leaders on our team, and they were instrumental in keeping everyone together.
“Most of the guys on our team do other stuff together,” Schaeffer added. “They’re like brothers. They squabble a little bit, but at the end of the day, they’ve got each other’s backs. It’s not good to have a team that’s older-laden or younger-laden. It’s good to have a mix.”
With just the right seasoning, that mixture eventually evolved into a strong commitment. When players are willing to do just about anything for teammates, it can be one of the most powerful forces in sports.
“I think our biggest success was commitment,” said Schaeffer. “We had a very high level of commitment. We had 16 to 18 players at every game. They wanted to play baseball. You have to have something they want to come out for. In today’s world that’s difficult. I never had to worry about having nine players.
“It’s good baseball,” concluded Schaeffer. “Some people think there’s other things more important than baseball. We as coaches made a lot of calls to colleges to have people come watch our kids play. There were about eight different colleges at regionals. You never know what’s going to happen.”
No, you never do.
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