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


Bruce Hefflinger
PBR New England Senior Writer

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Missing Out On "Special Time" Of High School

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

COACHES

Kevin GraberPlayers are far from alone when it comes to heartbreak with no 2020 baseball season.

“A big part of this is managing my own disappointment,” admitted Phillips Academy Andover, Ma., head coach Kevin Graber, who had a loaded roster this season with players committed to the likes of Virginia Tech, Duke, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Dartmouth and Trinity College along with the top-rated freshman in the country. “It’s not often you get to coach a team stocked with so much talent like we have this year.

“All fall and spring we invest so much time and energy in off-season conditioning, team-building, team meals, team s’mores roasted in my backyard, kids doing homework at our kitchen table during study hours, hours and hours planning our spring break Florida trip. This team is a 365-day-a-year endeavor for my family and me. To have the best part of it evaporate with our season cancelled, it leaves a huge hole.”

Rituals at programs everywhere, that in the past were always presumed, will not take place.

“There are so many traditions our seniors won’t get to experience,” pointed out Graber, who has led Phillips Andover to four Central New England Prep Championships in the past eight seasons. “Andover-Exeter is our big rivalry game at the end of the season, like our little Super Bowl. They miss out on that. And we have another tradition we call Senior Swing in which at the conclusion of our seniors’ last-ever practice, I pitch and each senior gets a chance to take one more swing, after which they go through a line of players and get hugs and love from everyone. Tears are shed and we take a bunch of photos. It really is something special for which these kids have waited, in some cases, years for it to be their turn.”

It is hard on other coaches as well.

Joe Garbowski“Just being around the players, creating memories, senior day, the ups, the downs and the laughs,” listed off Joe Garbowski, head coach New Fairfield, Ct., as to what all he would miss with no season. “I’ll certainly miss the seniors and will never be able to thank them properly for the commitment that they put into the program over the last four years. I’ll miss the big two-out RBI hit, the dive up the middle to save the tying run, the third strike call for the final out. It will be a year that will never be forgotten, yet nothing to remember it by.” 

Another saddened by it all is Billy Chapman, who in eight years at the helm has led Bedford, N.H., to a 125-46 record with seven Final Fours, four state runners-up finishes and a 2016 state championship.

“The most disappointing part of losing our season is missing out on the connections we make in our common goal of winning ball games,” Chapman noted. “All the emotions and hard work we put in together every day makes us family. I am missing my baseball family.”

Jason Lariviere of Thornton Academy, Me., has similar thoughts.

“The players are missing out on an opportunity to play the game they love.,” the third-year head coach at Thornton Academy said. “It’s a huge void for most. You only have a limited time to play competitive sports and to be stripped of one year, it’s a big loss. While my underclassmen will get another opportunity, my seniors won't, so I feel awful for Ryan Penney, Nick Griffin, Chris Balzano, Liam Nash and Stephen Emerson.”

The chance to make a statement senior year is sadly gone.

“It’s so disappointing for our seniors not to be able to play their senior year,” said Ed Holloway, who was coming off an unbeaten 23-0 season at Bishop Hendricken, R.I., in 2019. “We graduated 16 seniors last year, so some of our nine seniors had to wait to play this year. Unfortunately, they don't get that opportunity.”

MAKING THE BEST OF IT

In this unprecedented time, coaches have been left with the task of revealing the inevitable of no 2020 baseball season.

“We had a meeting on the last day school was held in person,” reflected St. John’s Shrewsbury, Ma., head coach Charlie Eppinger. “We didn’t know how things were going to play out and we were all hoping for the best. Governor Baker’s pronouncement last week effectively ended the season. The guys on the team are sad, but it had already seemed to be inevitable.”

Holloway communicated with his team by texting and phone calls.

“They were all disappointed not being able to play this year, but they understand the decision by the Governor for safety first and most important for all citizens,” Holloway related.

Garbowski has tried to make the best of the situation.

“We actually have a google classroom setup by the school district along with Zoom meetings once a week,” the New Fairfield mentor explained. “Although the news has been tough on our players, the class and weekly meetings have helped.

“We send out daily at-home strength and skilled based workouts. We also have lots of laughs with some funny at-home personal challenges that the boys video and send in. The coaching staff gets to pick winners on a weekly basis. The boys have sent in some very creative videos, some that get you to laugh so much you tend to forget the fact that we’re missing the on-field competition. We’ve learned a little bit more about each player's personality through this virtual classroom platform. It’s given our program a little life in this dull and dreadful time.”

Kevin GraberIt has been similar for Graber and company at Phillips Andover.

“We’ve stayed connected as a team with some fun projects -- like we did an alone-together compilation video in which each player texted me an individual short video of himself catching a ball, doing a trick with it, and then tossing it off camera,” Graber said. “Then I edited the clips together into one video which I posted on our program’s social media accounts.

“Beyond that, we’ve taken to honoring our seniors with highlight-reel tributes on our Twitter and Instagram accounts. They’re receiving some nice comments from schoolmates, family, alumni, and whatnot, so I guess that offers some consolation.”

It was work as well for Bedford.

“Once I knew our season was going to be delayed, I set up a google classroom and pumped out daily workouts for all the players with videos and fitness circuits,” explained Chapman. “Each day kids had stretching, individual fielding and tee drills to accomplish, and fitness/cardio workouts. I tried to keep them positive. Regardless of us having a season, they need to be ready for when they can step on a field.”

Life was not all centered around baseball, however, for Chapman.

“Throughout all of this my wife and I welcomed our first daughter on the 8th of April,” Chapman said. “I haven’t had a year off of baseball in over 30 years of playing and coaching, so taking this time to be with my family has been a big silver lining for me.”

Players such as Henry Fleckner, an uncommitted junior middle infielder at Xaverian Brothers, Ma., have sought out ways to keep baseball in their lives.

“It’s been bugging me a lot,” Fleckner said. “I pulled up some YouTube just remembering some old playoff highlights.”

Unfortunately, it’s the only baseball to enjoy at this point in time.

AHEAD: Part three of this story will look at how players have been managing to work out during their time away from the field, will check in with a family missing out on time together and also get the views of a head coach who was looking forward to his first season in charge.