Prep Baseball Report

For Scotty

Nick Cicere
Texas Director of Operations

FRISCO, Texas- For the South Texas Sliders Baseball organization, there will never again be a summer such as this one. From beginning, to end.

The Sliders program, after more than 10 years since its institution, has become not only one of the most revered travel baseball programs in the state of Texas, but so too has its brand made national waves. And it all started with its founder, Scott Mayer.

“He was everything,” said Michael Robbins, a member of the Sliders coaching staff for the past five years. “And when I say everything, I literally mean everything. He did the hotels, he did the entry fees, he did the roster making, he did the uniforms, but I think his contributions were much more than just handling the logistics of the Sliders.

“His relationships will all of us coaches, parents and all of the players, it sets the Sliders apart from every program I’ve ever been around.”

Matt Pierce, who has has been a part of the Sliders staff for much of its existence, said that Mayer didn’t just embrace his role as a leader. He thrived upon it.

“Scott was a mentor to all of us as men,” Pierce said. “He talked to us about our marriages, he asked us about our wives all of the time, he spoke to you about being a father, so it was always much bigger than baseball to Scott.

“He invested in people.”

The Sliders, specifically the 17U team coached by Mayer, were once again set to embark on a summer journey suffused with high-level baseball. Between the World Wood Bat Association’s 17U National Championship event in Atlanta, Ga., or the Premier Baseball National Championship in Joplin, Mo., the soon-to-be high school seniors were in the midst of not only their last summer with the Sliders, but their last summer with each other.

Though tragedy, as it often does, heeds no warning.

On May 2, Mayer unexpectedly went missing. On May 12, authorities confirmed his passing. The North East Independent School District employee, and father of three, was 47-years-old.

“When it first came out that Scott was missing, and the email went out, I think there was some shock through the Sliders,” Pierce said. “At first, obviously people were more concerned about Scott and his family, and then, when we got the news that we got, I think people were wondering what was going to happen next.

“I do think there was some worry early on, and how the Sliders would respond to this.”

The response of these young men was an understanding that this summer, their final summer, would not be care-free or without burden. The weight of Coach Mayer’s death was always going to heavy. But if they weren’t already, these past two months transformed boys into young men.

“About that third week of the summer, when we really got the whole group together, I think the mood was almost business-like,” Robbins said. “Everybody knew what this summer was about, everybody knew the uniqueness that was about to occur, and as a coaching staff, we wanted to make sure we never forgot who we were playing for.”

Sam Walbridge, a left-handed pitcher for the 17U Sliders and a University of Texas commit for the class of 2019, was among the number of ballplayers affected by the passing of Coach Mayer. While the 6’4 southpaw has grown accustomed to wins on the ballfield, he’s unfortunately experienced in loss.

“My dad passed after my eighth grade year,” Waldbridge said. “I stopped playing ball because I wanted to be with him. He passed away of cancer, so I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. After that, Coach Scott always made sure to pick me out of the crowd and he’d always ask me how I was doing and checking in on me. I didn’t have anyone to check on me like that anymore after my dad passed. He was very influential, and some of my best baseball memories are shared with Coach Scott. He meant a lot to me, and his family means a lot to me.”

As the summer progressed for the 17U Sliders, so too did the leadership of Walbridge. Given his acquaintance to tribulation, he felt his dugout needed a voice.

“I’m a pitcher-only so I don’t play in every game, but I know for a fact I’m going to be the first one out of the dugout because I have a part to play,” he said. “I talked to the team a bunch during team meetings and just said that this summer isn’t what it was last summer. We have more purpose this summer than we’ve ever had in our lives.

“To honor his family, this organization, and play well was the number one thing for us.”

But at first, things weren’t really going their way.

With only three wins in their first eight games, the Sliders came out of the gate with results unbecoming of their talent. Though, the boys turned a corner in Atlanta.

The June 29-July 6 WWBA 17U National Championship, an event some would label the most prestigious summer baseball event in the United States, paved the way for the Sliders to represent what baseball in south Texas looks like. A 5-2 record in pool play allowed the Sliders to advance to the playoff rounds, a streak of games that included three consecutive wins. Their time in Atlanta was halted following a 7-5 loss in the quarterfinal round, but spirits were finally starting to lift.

Next on the schedule for the Sliders was the July 18-22 Premier Baseball National Championship, yet another crack at a prestigious nationwide tournament. There was no hangover inside or outside the Sliders dugout. Everyone, instinctively, expected results.

“Me and Douglas Hodo were on our way up to Missouri, and he told me ‘I will be very disappointed if we don’t win this championship,’” Walbridge said. “I told him I agreed with that.”

“Before we left for that tournament, I had numerous parents guarantee me that that team was going to win that tournament,” Pierce said. “They knew that [the kids] were going to win Joplin.”

As always, the parents were right. Following four consecutive wins where the Sliders compiled a run differential of +28, a group now led by Robbins and assistant Beau O’Hara squeaked out a pair of one-run wins and a convincing 5-1 victory before the Sliders earned a place in the semi-finals of the PBNC. There, the Texas commits took care of business.

The right-handed Travis Sthele posted 6.1 innings of two-hit baseball, allowing no runs while striking out seven hitters, guiding the Sliders into the championship game in Joplin. Walbridge was next, but not without worry.

“Earlier in the tournament, I came out of the first game because my elbow was sore,” Walbridge said. “Which was weird, because my elbow never gets sore. I was discouraged and I was like ‘Gosh, I’m not going to be get to pitch the rest of this tournament.’”  

Winning is contagious, and so is the desire to win. Walbridge saw his future Longhorn teammate twirl a gem, and he wanted in on the action.

“After the semi-final game, I told Coach I was going to pitch in the championship game, and I was going to throw a complete-game shutout,” Walbridge said.

If pitching doesn’t work out for Walbridge, he certainly has fortune-telling as a back-up, because he came through on his promise. The star of the Sliders’ 8-0 win, Walbridge went the distance in a game cut short by run-rule, as the lefty surrendered only four hits with a matching number of strikeouts.

“I guess it was meant to be,” Walbridge said. “To give [the Mayer family] that after such a horrible tragedy, it was God’s plan.”

Walbridge, Sthele, and Hodo were all named to the PBNC All-Tournament team. 

And during their time in Joplin, the Sliders didn’t honor their late coach by solely winning a national championship. They took care of business on his field.

The Sliders found numerous ways to demonstrate that Mayer was still in their thoughts. One example included symbolically leaving the third-base coaching box open during their offensive half of the first inning. Even the #ForScotty hashtag became a source of inspiration for those within the Sliders family, and for many on the outside looking in. But in Joplin, the Sliders ceremoniously named Joe Becker Stadium, the site of the PBNC, the home of Scott Mayer Field.

“Keeping Scott close and keeping his memory alive, and making sure that he was a part of it was very, very important to us,” Robbins said. “And I think we accomplished it.”

“We didn’t realize how special [leaving the third base coaching box open] was going to be,” Pierce said. “But Coach Robbins told me we had college coaches showing up to our games just to see the tribute for Scott.”

Soon enough, the ballplayers of the eldest Sliders team, still officially known as the “17U Mayer” team, will go through the motions of a high school year one last time. The kids, for the most part, will go their separate ways. They’ll go to college, start a career, and soon enough, start families of their own. And on and on, time will pass.

But, the sacrality of this summer is unlikely to be lost.

“I’m going to miss that team more than anything,” Walbridge said. “I’ll remember that team for the rest of my life.

“I’ll tell my kids about it.”