This & That

I have loved the sport of baseball for a very long time. The first two pictures I saw of myself from my youth had me in a baseball uniform and a cowboy suit. I do remember the days of being in tune with the Lone Ranger and Tonto and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, but that interest faded longer ago than I can remember. But baseball still is in the forefront of my existence.

For most people, I believe baseball is a father-child thing. My father was my main influence on the topic. Matt McCarthy and his sons are living out their own baseball dream. Matt’s wife Shanna loves baseball as much as the Green Mountain Union High School baseball coach does, and their boys both have been dealt the same hand. They play baseball in season and out of season as well. They both love it and hope to get better by playing a lot of it.

A few years back, I mentioned an opportunity Dylan McCarthy had to be a part of an independent team that played ball at the fields in Cooperstown, N.Y. Now Dylan’s brother Kaiden plays ball for the same Green Mountain Lightning organization, thus the two of them are deeply ingrained competing in the sport. Both McCarthy brothers were good enough while competing in the Empire League to have times they competed above their age brackets in the competition.

This story actually begins back when Dylan was 9 years old and he was invited to play in a pick-up baseball game at Pingree Park in Londonderry, Vt. Someone saw him play and eventually he became a member of the Lightning team. The team had players from many places including Manchester and Bennington and New York state. The team competes in the Empire State Baseball League in New York state. That first year, the Lightning were good enough to advance to the finals in the 10 and under division and fell just short of a title.

Who you know plays a part sometimes in who you become. Word of mouth has at one time or another helped Dylan along his baseball journey and Kaiden too. Their father Matt used to play softball with a former Twin Valley baseball player by the name of George Molner. The former Wildcat was good enough to play Division I baseball at Fairfield University. He ran a team called the Connecticut Edge, and Dylan was able to compete with them last fall.

The Edge played at least a doubleheader every weekend. Dylan’s play there caught the eye of Michael Walls, whose organization, the Connecticut Crush, competes at an even higher level. This is where Dylan is playing this summer. And Dylan has a Green Mountain Chieftain teammate Rex Hill playing on the team with him. Both players have the dream of playing college baseball. Playing for the Crush helps them be exposed to college coaches on a regular basis. The Crush has a limited roster and although McCarthy referred Hill, his involvement is not automatic.

“We have some rules, and one of the biggest is no dads allowed. I know Matt is a very good baseball coach, but that doesn’t fly here. We take referrals, but for a player to play here we have to have one of our coaches to have seen him play,” said Walls. That’s why both McCarthy and Hill are on the roster. Walls told me that a love of baseball was crucial for involvement.

This year’s Crush team has players from four states: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Of course McCarthy and Hill will travel the furthest.

“I’ve been around doing this for 14 years,” Walls said. “I try to do everything the best way including we compete against some of the best, like the big tournament we are going to in Saratoga, N.Y. this weekend. We only take kids who really want to be here. Dylan is having a monster summer. He will be pitching some big ball this weekend. He is 2-1 for us and in 27 innings has struck out 50. He is competing up in the 16/17 and under group, although he was 15 for much of the season. He also bats cleanup for us and is hitting close to .400.”

Walls also said, “Rex also has pitched well and is 2-1 too. He has played better than his numbers at the plate. In ways, he kind of has struggled, but it’s because he has had one of those seasons that he has hit into a lot of bad luck. He has hit a lot of balls just at someone and hasn’t been able to get any bloopers to fall in to even things out. He has helped us all over defensively. He has played third, short, second, and some outfield. He has been a big help all over. Both of them are phenomenal young men. They both clearly have strong family bases who will support the players and that is important to us.”

McCarthy and Hill also play baseball for Bellows Falls Pierce Lawton Legion Post this summer. They had to have the blessing of Post 37 Coach Bill Lockerby to have both baseball experiences. Having a revolving cast of players isn’t easy, but Lockerby gave his blessing.

Bellows Falls has had a tough summer and if they had been competing for a playoff berth, the absence of these two players at times might have left them short.

Back around 1980, an outstanding Fall Mountain athlete named Keith Leclair missed his basketball playoff game to attend a baseball camp in February. Fall Mountain lost a close one to Laconia in overtime. I believed at the time Leclair had let his team down. Later, when Leclair secured a scholarship to Western Carolina and went on to a strong career there for baseball and went on to become an equally outstanding coach at both Western and East Carolina, I realized those possibilities could have been arrived at by his camp exposure.

Readers who have never heard of Leclair need to know the Walpole native touched so many athletes as a coach, but unfortunately died of ALS at the age of 40. He built a phenomenal 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and earned an equally impressive five conference Coach of the Year awards. He was a big time coach because of his desires displayed in the sport at a very young age. Along with Carlton Fisk, they are the two area athletes who have truly excelled at the sport.

In conclusion, McCarthy and Hill are out there pursuing their dreams. Their route has been well laid out. They are playing as much ball as they possibly can. Chances are they will never rise to the level of either Fisk or Leclair, but they are trying hard to become as good as they can to go as far as they can.

  If you would like to comment on this column or communicate with the author, feel free to email to bmurphy@vermontjournal.com.

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