Nerds in the game, R.A. Dickey and the Elon Phoenix, a timely tribute to Jackie Robinson

Dickey_WindUp_coverThis summer I picked up R.A. Dickey’s biography Wherever I Wind Up and read it in two sittings. I really enjoyed the book, hearing Dickey’s emotional story of childhood abuse and a decade spent in the grind of minor league baseball was moving and motivating. But it wasn’t just a sob story of things he had to overcome; Dickey was drafted out of high school but went to the University of Tennessee instead, where he pitched for Team USA, was featured on the cover of Baseball America, and was an All-American. This leaves me and him with about as much in common as his knuckleball has in common with Craig Kimbrell’s electric fastball. However, one thing that I can claim “me too!” was that Dickey is a book nerd. Common ground! Throughout his book, he quotes philosophers, time-tested authors, and my all-time favorite: Bible verses. Dickey was one of the rare guys who proved himself in the classroom as well as on the field. It made me think a lot about the makeup of the Phoenix locker room.

It’s always enjoyable for me to see guys in the Phoenix locker room digging into biographies, novels, and other literature on our long greyhound bus rides. Jimmy Reyes, Jimmy Stokes, Ryan Pennell, Jake Luce, Ken Ferrer and Mike Melillo were/are among the many Phoenix players who, like Dickey, would dig into a good book on a long road trip.

One thing that has always been cool at Elon has been the ability to hold conversations as

The Elon Baseball team GPA was 3.03 this Fall

The team GPA was 3.03 this Fall

intellectually stimulating on the baseball field as I can in the classroom. Joe O’Hagan, a former catcher for the Phoenix who is now doing graduate work at University of Westminster in London, and I used to talk philosophy; Swim and I talk about social issues; Grant McCoury and I would talk about sports medicine and biology;

Kinsella and I talk about religion; the Bowers and I talk about international relations and then there are guys like Bruno, who talk to me about economics, and I offer nothing in return except for war stories about intense games playing Monopoly. We truly are a melting pot of different views, styles and perspectives, but our diversities intersect everyday at the field making each water break a new conversation.

Well, in hopes of redeeming some stereotypical views of college athletes and in light of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wanted to throw up a baseball poem – a shout out to my fellow athletic nerds out there – in tribute to another Civil Rights Activist who changed the game about as much as MLK, Jr. changed American landscape:

Jackie : A tribute to Brooklyn Dodger’s Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson singing a contract with Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 to break the color barrier

Jackie Robinson singing a contract with Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 to break the color barrier

He waited
In the whiteness of the afternoon sun;
Black man on green ground.
He waited
In the silence of the tongue
Black man on green ground.
He waited
In the path of his words
White broke his bones;

Black man on green ground.
He waited
As few men have ever
waited
And endured
Before a multitude
as no man before,

O,
To have conquered the white sun,
blinding
To have sailed the sun and ridden

its joy
in tears
And
in laughter.

To have ridden the white sun,
blinding
And to be
struck
struck
struck
by the rising
Of
Your
Own
Black
Sun.

Your crown was white;
…and waited.

-Author uknown

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Elon Baseball Fantasy Files, one month away from Opening Day

Supporting the 2012 SoCon Championship Elon Soccer team.

Supporting the 2012 SoCon Championship Elon Soccer team.

Every year, for as long as I can remember, I have seen Christmas break as a gauntlet to run through to get to Opening Day. Throughout the time I’ve been in school whether it be, college, high school, or middle school, my yearly schedule has been dictated by baseball season. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Although this year has started off strikingly similar to the past ten, it’s back dropped with an entirely different emotion. For the first time in my baseball career I’m preparing for a season without a written assurance that I have a place to play the following year. It forces you to reminisce. Recalling tee ball in Miami to coach pitch in Georgia to state championships in Jacksonville to conference championships at Elon.  James Earl Jones got it right in “Field of Dreams” when he said, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.” Outside of my becoming a Christian in Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 4.49.55 PM2009, it’s the best calendar of my life. Now, you might be asking yourself, “Are you going to be like the Mayans and assume that just because your known calendar is going out of date so is the thing that it chronicles?” By no means! I hope that I’ll get another year to stare out the window with Rogers Hornsby and wait for baseball season next year, but for now let’s just play ball!

We’re less than a month away from first pitch at the ‘Lath and her artificial beauty is covered with a fresh layer of Carolina snow. That’s hard to believe since the temperature was flirting with 80 degrees just three days before, the last time we saw a 50 degree drop at the ‘Lath was on Whitehead’s curveball. Even though we’re a page flip away from the season opener, some of the newcomers couldn’t wait to make their mark on the field. The freshman brigade, led by Danny Lynch and Brandon Kacer, a pair of Miami natives who had never seen snow before last night, went out to the field and made snow angels (well, maybe not snow angels, but they did frolic around in the newfound precipitation). It was a precipitation that was much different than the sweat we have grown accustomed to pouring out during our off-season training with Coach Mac.

One of Coach Mac's workouts this Fall.

One of Coach Mac’s workouts this Fall.

This is my fourth time through Fall and Winter workouts and I can honestly attest that this year’s squad has raised the bar for what a successful product of #BodyByMac workouts should look like. As Coach Mac is prone to say during squats, “fill out those game pants!” Well, we have. And after making it through another off-season of avoiding stairs, craving ice baths and becoming immune to muscle cramps, we’re ready to don the Phoenix uniforms, some for the first time and some for the last.

Steve (Superfan) Roth is another Phoenix who will be wearing the maroon and gold for his final season as a student. Steve has become the “10th man” around the ‘Lath and if you’ve ever been to a home game, you would know why. Steve, in all his glory of superfandom, couldn’t stay away from his own off-season training and today we get to see a preview of that work. Below you will see the Elon Baseball Fantasy Files. They are modeled after the NFL Fantasy Files put together for professional players to sell their craft and get their draft status up. Well, a handful of us have done our best to sell our crafts to get our attendance up! I hope you enjoy it as much as we did putting it together and come on out to the ‘Lath on 15 February for first pitch of the 2013 Elon baseball season!

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Some dreams never change, adding a few more to the Phoenix

Casey Gaynor and Mike Hall helping a kid pick out a book at the book fair

Throughout this week the Elon baseball team will be spending time at Elon Elementary School, helping the students pick out books from the book fair, and speaking to them about the importance of academics in realizing dreams. After all, as the NCAA commercial truthfully states, “There are more than 380,000 student-athletes and most of them go pro in something other than sports.”

But that aside, there’s nothing wrong with chasing dreams.

Today, we got to hear some dreams of the fourth graders. Astronaut, doctor, veterinarian, inventor, teacher, policeman and fireman were among the long list of hopefuls. The sporadic shouts reminded me of the scene from “Mr. Deeds” when Deeds, Adam Sandler’s character, stands up and challenges the shareholders of a rich business to remember their childhood dreams. It was refreshing. But the one response that colored us best was when a student yelled out, “baseball player!” with all the confidence in the world.

Twelve grades removed from the kids sitting Indian style with “Captain Underpants” books on their laps, I still can’t hide from the juvenile hope of one day playing for pay, and I would bet an off day that I have a locker room full of guys who are in the same boat as me. And that’s why the beginning of fall practice last Wednesday was one of the best days of the year.

Brushing up on some “Captain Underpants”

For the love of the game.

With fall practice under way, so are intersquad games and the inevitable wake of bragging rights that come from each pitcher/hitter matchup. After not seeing a live pitch in six months, I got to shake off the rust with a matchup against my least-liked pitcher to face, Kyle Webb. I’ve never been more excited to hit an infield pop fly. However, for some people, like Swim, Leathers, King and Kinsella, needing time to “get back into the groove,” is just an empty phrase. The weekend was full of Swim line drives, Leathers’ sizzling singles, King’s doubles and Kinsella’s light-tower power home runs.

But with any good team, there is a mixture of veterans and rookies, and we’ve got ample of the latter, which leads me to a few more introductions.

I’ll start with the trio of freshman pitchers who practically give me concussion tests every time I see them, making sure I remember their names.

Casey Gaynor is a right-handed pitcher from Connecticut, who got to toe the rubber for the first time at the ‘Lath Sunday during one clean inning of work. But, if he pitches like he did to get him to Elon, I’m sure I’ll be the only one having any trouble remembering his name.

Brandon Kacer is a southpaw, from the land of Gomi, Nelly and Antonio. Growing up in Miami, Kacer has been a life-long friend of fellow freshman, Danny Lynch. When Elefante and I performed a mock interview with him, one of the first things that he wanted to make clear was that back in the motherland, there is a girl who calls him her boyfriend. Which leads me to the final member of the pitching trio, also donning Romeo status.

Elefante ushered in the first ovation of Michael Roberts’ time at Elon

Michael Roberts is a left-handed pitcher from Sarasota, Fla., who went to IMG Academy, the same school as McVicar. Along with getting his first taste of college baseball during the weekend, he got the first taste of an Elefante joke.

This weekend was Family Weekend and many parents and girlfriends came in to town. Friday night, at McEwen dining hall, Elefante heard that Roberts and his girlfriend had just reached the one-year mark of their relationship. Elefante took it upon himself to congratulate the two by initiating a standing ovation from the entire dining hall — the first ovation of many to come for Roberts and the Elon Phoenix this year.

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From coast to coast, new Phoenix players fill up the 2013 roster

Justin Hilt playing in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization

“Watch this,” Coach Huff said while he and I stood down the right-field line at the ‘Lath at one of the first fall practices of my freshman year.

I looked over and saw Justin Hilt catapult a frozen rope across the outfield while playing long toss. It was one of the best arms I had ever seen outside of the big league games I had been to. “Show it off, Hilt!” Huff said.

But anyone who knows Huff knows it sounded more like show iit oooooooff, Hiiiiilt!

I gotta get in the weight room, quick! I said to myself. But that thought was immediately drowned out when Hilt jogged over and introduced himself. As if his rifle-of-an-arm wasn’t intimidating enough, his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame that appeared to be better suited for Crossfit competitions, sealed the deal. Thankfully Hilt’s appearance, much like Shuerman’s, was starkly contrasting to his congenial personality. That was my first encounter with a senior on the team my freshman year. Reassuring, I know.

Four years later, we have a new flock of freshmen coming in, and the “intimidating” outfielder that they have to deal with is a mere 5’9, 178 pounds (but if you asked him, he would tell you 5’10, 180 pounds). That aside, I’ll never forget my first impressions of the oldest

Chris Schaedel is a freshman outfielder for the Phoenix

guys on the team when I was fresh out of high school, so I’ll do my best to give you my first impressions of them, now that I can remember their names with a month of school under my belt!

The first freshman I’ll reveal to you is Chris Schaedel, an outfielder from Naples, Fla. Schaedel’s smooth bat path and Vietnamese decent offer us unlimited potential to coin him the Asian Sensation during the 2013 season. Schaedel grew up in New Orleans before moving to Florida in 2005 to create a hurricane of his own in south Florida baseball.

Also coming from a coastal state is Jonah Campbell, the first California-bred Phoenix since I’ve been here. My first interaction with Jonah came when we were hitting in the batting cage and I asked him where he was from. A few seconds after an awkward laugh on his part to my succeeding question, I found out that his hometown of Pasadena, Calif., was not in Texas. Jonah will either be in the outfield or fishing up grounders at first base.

The final freshman to be introduced in this post is Danny Lynch, a two-way player from Miami, Fla. Lynch epitomizes the phrase “speak softy and carry a big stick.” I say that because Lynch is slower to speak, and prefers to let his strong left-handed swing and right-handed pitching speak for himself. Joining McVicar, he adds a Charger to not only our lineup, but also our parking lot.
With hopes of decorating our trophy case in the same way that we have our parking lot, we hope and anticipate the beach boys introduced in this post will help us get there.

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Elon Phoenix 2013

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A few more Phoenix players add on to the diverse blend

Fallout Friday at the ‘Lath

“I can’t wait for Monday,” and “I’m dreading Friday,” are two phrases you normally wouldn’t hear someone say, unless you were around the Elon Baseball team during fall workouts.

Starting with “Get-Swoll Sunday” through “Throw-up Thursday,” our weeks are being chiseled around getting in the best shape possible, under the strength and conditioning dictatorship of Coach Mac. The crescendo of training comes on “Fallout Friday,” at the ‘Lath, past the point of exhaustion, soaking with sweat and with the North Carolina sun, which refuses to yield its scorching summer temperatures to the briskness of the fall, glaring down on us.

In the midst of fall weights and conditioning, we have been keeping up with our individuals, where we are tightening the screws and bolts of fundamental baseball.

The Bullpen Militia has been introducing different members every Friday on Twitter

In large part because of my individual group, I can introduce another junior college transfer, Aaron Schuerman, who will be spending his defensive days in the outfield with me. The twins (who are also in my outfield group) have coined him the “Tank,” – maybe because he has a tattoo on his left bicep that makes him look like a Polynesian warlord, or because his makeup gives him the frontrunner in deciding who we are going to send out the bus first on road trips for intimidation (appearances are deceiving, he is nice as can be). Nonetheless, Schuerman, originally from Ohio, made a few pit stops in schools in Illinois and Georgia before bringing his smooth left-handed swing to Elon. He also has been throwing fashion back to the early 90s with a calculator-watch.

With that fresh piece of 20thcentury-fashion, he could help calculate the expected high batting average of another junior college

Antonio Alvarez is a switch-hitting infielder from Miami, FL

transfer, Antonio Alvarez. This second transfer is an infielder that, like me, could never make up his mind in the batters box and decided to hit on both sides of the plate. I welcome in another switch hitter (R.I.P. Right-handed swing of Kinsella). Alvarez or “Macho,” originally from Miami, spent his freshman year down the road at N.C. State before eventually coming west down I-40. Macho fills in the gap of Spanish influence that was weakened when Serra decided to go to Wingate.

To round off the junior college transfers, we’ve got Jacob Baker, who, like former-Phoenix Connor Lewis, is a “good-ole Southern boy.” Baker is from right here in North Carolina. A right-handed pitcher, he went to East Carolina out of high school before taking a Pitt stop in the community college in Greenville before coming to Elon. Baker will join the “Bullpen Militia,” which is what the pitchers are calling themselves in their aim to shoot down high averages, like the ones we’re expecting to see from the aforementioned hitters.

Although all three guys come from different places, and play different positions, and have different accents, they are learning that they are blending with the rest of the Phoenix. Some of that blending is coming from the love of Monday and its status as the off day, or Colonnades dining hall after training, or the excitement we get

Jacob Baker, right handed pitcher, taking a nap in the locker room in between workouts

when we see an elevator when we have a class on the second floor, or the relief we get when Coach Mac says “find a partner and stretch,” to finalize a conditioning session. But the ingredient that contributes most to the rich blend is the desire to take the Phoenix to unreached places in the national tournament in 2013.

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