Missing Out On 'Special Time' Of High School - Part Three


Bruce Hefflinger
PBR New England Senior Writer

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Missing Out On "Special Time" Of High School

PART THREE: The following is the third of an in-depth five-part story looking at the cancellation of the 2020 high school baseball season in New England.

WORKING OUT

Although not getting to play games, players realize staying in shape, getting stronger and working on improving their speed are all essential when it comes to baseball - especially for those looking to play at the next level.

Jake Neuman“I’ve been throwing with one of my teammates about four to five times a week just to keep my arm in shape and then will have a bullpen session one or two times each week also,” pointed out Jake Neuman, of Southington, Ct. “Along with that, I’ll take hacks in the cages after I throw. From a strength and conditioning aspect, I’ve been using this time to continue to get stronger and faster and lifting weights five days a week. I’ve kind of treated this time like an extended offseason.”

The same goes with Ryan Meyer, the 20th-rated junior shortstop in New England.

“With no baseball, I look at this as an opportunity for an extended offseason,” Meyer noted. “Playing a sport in the winter and the fall, I really have to find time to get better and stronger, and now I have all the time I want.

“In the past month I’ve worked out every single day and gained almost 15 pounds. I also go to the field a lot, work on my skills and take some swings. I look at this situation with positivity, and an opportunity to be the athlete that I’ve always wanted to be and prepare myself even more for the next level of baseball.”

Jack Ambrosino has devoted time to being ready to play whenever that happens.

“I’ve definitely been trying to stay as active as possible, doing basic bodyweight workouts that my trainer has written for me, and also just using what I have available around the house, whether it’s dumbbells or a backpack full of water bottles,” explained the South Burlington, Vt., senior. “Band work is easy and has been big for me during my high school career. I’m just trying to make sure my arm stays healthy and I stay in shape to be able to play.

“I’ve been trying to get outside as much as possible,” Ambrosino continued. “I try to go to our high school field and do my workouts there as much as I can, with a nice open space away from everything else, I can get in a lot of dynamic work as well. I recruited my dad to throw with me when he can, and/or other teammates that are around. I feel like the biggest thing for me has been making sure that my nutrition has stayed consistent during this crazy time.”

Before the season was officially called off, others were making an effort to be ready as a team.

“We were having virtual practices, running through situations,” explained Luca Danos of Noble & Greenough, Ma., a junior committed to William & Mary. “I’m one of the captains and helped organize it. We were set up to do well in the league this year and it’s really disappointing we can’t see it pan out.”

Coaches were doing their best to have players ready, be it for the spring season or for what follows.

Kevin Graber“As a coach, a concern now is that these kids need to be ready for summer ball,” pointed out Phillips Andover head coach Kevin Graber. “I’m in constant contact with them, mostly via our team text group, encouraging them to continue with our off-season long-toss program, remain diligent with their arm care routines, and stay strong with at-home workouts. We text them Twitter posts with information and links to workouts and drills.”

Some players have more access than others to workout facilities.

Jonathan Santucci (junior Duke commit) is fortunate because his dad owns an indoor hitting facility,” Graber noted. “Other players, like Sebastian Mexico, have been posting videos of their workouts. I spoke with (junior Notre Dame commit) Jack Penney’s mom and he’s been long-tossing and getting his workouts in every day.”

If nothing else, Graber sees the need to find a manner to work out good for today’s youth.

“At the onset of all this, I emailed families and let them know, ‘hey, your kids will have to get their work in on their own,’” Graber explained. “It’s sort of a return to days-gone-by. When I was their age, we didn’t have indoor hitting facilities, expensive personal trainers or private hitting coaches. We did a lot of stuff on our own.

“When I was their age, I did push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. I hit off a tee into an old swimming pool cover I fished out of a neighbor’s garbage, which I bundled up into a large ball in a corner in my parents’ garage.”

Yechiel Saint, a junior at Bridgton Academy in Maine, has found the desire to work out a bit tougher than in his homeland.

“I’ve been doing home workouts to keep my body in shape,” Saint related. “I’m throwing in my backyard and I’m working on dry swings. But it’s harder because where I’m at (Maine) you don’t get to play baseball year ‘round while back home (Bahamas) you could play 24-7 even in the winter time. I’m getting used to not being able to play baseball every day, so I’m trying to figure out a way to get better every day.”

SPECIAL SEASON LOST

Adding to the woes of some comes when a father misses out on the chance to coach his son.

Garbowski Family“I try not to put myself in the moment of coaching my son(s),” pointed out New Fairfield head coach Joe Garbowski. “But now that you ask that question, I’m  gonna miss it. This year would have given me the opportunity to be able to have both of my boys in the program. Unfortunately, this pandemic has delayed it … but hopefully, I’ll get a little taste of it next year.”

A highly-recruited junior, Matthew Garbowski is a Connecticut commit, while his younger brother Kyle is a promising freshman ranked 64th in his class.

“It’s been difficult on my whole family,” the third-rated 2021 in New England noted. “My dad misses coaching and being out on the field. My brother misses playing and is missing his first year at the high-school level. My mother and sister miss watching me and my brother play.”

Kyle was looking forward to his initial season of varsity ball.

“This would have been the first year that my brother, my father, my grandfather and I would have all been together playing and coaching in the same program,” the New Fairfield ninth-grader said. “It would have been pretty cool to be part of that.

“It would have also been an important year to start out my high school career and help prepare me for the next three years. I’m really missing out on that.”

Adding to the family disappointment, Mike Garbowski has been a volunteer assistant coach in the program since 1992 and is missing out on an opportunity to see the family united on the ballfield.

“Missing the 2020 high school baseball season is very disappointing to me,” explained Mike, Joe’s father. “Although not that big in the grand scheme of things, it’s sad to see the ball fields empty. I feel bad for the seniors who will lose their last year, I feel bad for the freshmen who will miss out on their first year, I feel bad for all the kids from the T-ballers to the seniors.

“What I miss the most is the ‘wit’ and ‘wisdom this great sport of baseball offers us and the opportunity to have had my two grandchildren on the same field together.”

But there is also a grasp of what is going on in the world today.

“We have over a million COVID-19 cases in the U.S., we have closed businesses, we have many people on unemployment, we are educating virtually, so many things have changed for so many of us,” Mike said. “I’ve been around for a pretty long time and I can most certainly say this is one for the record books. It makes you think a bit about what’s truly important in life.”

Still, the elder Garbowski remains positive.

“From experience, all things good or bad will pass and we will grow from them,” Mike said. “I hope all our baseball players around the country are spending this time as an opportunity to gain... gain more wisdom, gain more strength, gain more skill and gain more love for this great game of baseball.”

While family time on the ballfield is being missed out on by the Garbowskis, Mike Rivelas was looking forward to his first season as a head coach. The 42-year-old had been the varsity assistant pitching coach the past six years before taking over the helm this season at Westhill High School in Stamford, Ct.

“I really feel awful for everyone involved,” the 1995 graduate of Arlington High School in Lagrangeville, N.Y., said. “First and foremost the players worked tirelessly since the first day of school in preparation for the season. We had a ton of momentum heading into the official start of the season only to have the rug pulled from underneath us.

“We have a small class but for the majority this would have been their last time playing really competitive organized baseball.”

A Pace University 1999 grad who went on to play two years in the Frontier League as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, Riveles feels bad for so many.

“I feel for the underclassmen, we probably would have had six or seven juniors and sophomores in our starting lineup and for those players to miss out on a year of varsity competition is pretty disappointing,” the first-year head coach said. “I also feel for the coaches who work all year in preparation of their season. In many districts they’re not even receiving their coaching stipend after months and months of work.”

As a new mentor, Riveles is doing what he can to stay positive.

“I’ve done my best to keep this whole thing in perspective for our players and myself,” Riveles explained. “They are safe and they are healthy. A lot of people around us have it much worse right now. Living where we live, it’s impossible to not know someone who has been directly affected by COVID-19. When you read the news, and the headlines are how many people died the previous day, it’s a bit easier to understand the magnitude of what’s happening around us.”

AHEAD: Part four of this story will look at exposure lost at the next level and what that means in the eyes of PBR scouting directors