Even teams that do not make the playoffs can showcase championship character
It is postseason time for spring sports.
The soccer playoffs at the district and bi-district levels started over the weekend. Baseball starts this week. That will be followed by softball. The “individual” sports also begin their qualification processes to make it to state.
But not every athlete experiences the playoffs. Not all teams make it beyond the regular season.
Friday, I wanted to take in a contest between two baseball teams that were concluding their seasons.
What I witnessed is why I love high school sports so much.
Trust me, every single player on the field Friday afternoon would have loved to be preparing to be playing this week. Instead, their teams did not have the success on the scoreboard throughout the year to make it to this week.
How did the athletes respond to this letdown?
They competed. They showed some intensity. At one point, even a little too much intensity. But then there was sportsmanship. They walked off the field proud of how they finished the season.
It was Fort Vancouver hosting Woodland on a day like most days this spring. Wet.
Not exactly baseball weather, but, well, in the Northwest, it was good enough for baseball weather.
Early in the game, there was some chirping going on between teams. Trash talk on the baseball field is nothing new. But when that is followed up with a hit by pitch, it can lead to tempers.
Woodland’s Jake Sams got hit by a pitch thrown by Fort Vancouver’s Luke Butterfield. Was it intentional? Or did Butterfield just want to throw inside to send a message? Butterfield said it was not intentional. Regardless, Sams did not appreciate it, and he let his feelings known.
“We had a little staredown on the way to first,” Sams said, describing an emotional trip to first base after getting hit by the pitch.
The inning ended with no more escalation.
The next inning, Butterfield got on base and made it second base. Sams and Butterfield were right next to each other. It could have turned ugly. Instead …
“We gotta squash this real quick,” Sams said. “I shook his hand. I’m not a big fan of the bickering.”
Butterfield was appreciative.
“When I got to second base, he shook my hand. He was a real gentleman about it. I really respect No. 4 for doing that,” Butterfield said.
Sams said he also wanted to ensure that the seniors on the field had a positive experience in their final game. A handshake made that happen.
Later in the game, Woodland was on the wrong end of a bad break that allowed for Fort Vancouver to take a 1-0 lead.
With a runner on third base, a Fort Vancouver batter asked for timeout just before the pitch was delivered. The umpire did not grant the timeout, but the pitcher thought he did. The pitcher stopped in the middle of his delivery. That’s a balk. The runner from third base was granted free passage to home plate.
The Woodland crowd was confused, then frustrated. There was no cursing or anything like that, but a few fans questioned the integrity of the call. It was an odd situation. And certainly unlucky for Woodland. A timeout was requested. But it was not granted.
Just when it seemed like the crowd was going to turn it up a notch, Woodland catcher Deuce Merritt turned to his own fans and explained to them, calmly, what just happened. The timeout was not granted.
“Sometimes things happen. You can’t control them,” Merritt said after the game.
He did not want his own crowd taking it out on the umpire, who was just trying to do the job to the best of his ability.
“No point in arguing with an umpire,” Merritt said. “The call was made, and the call was going to stay that way.”
His actions helped in de-escalating a chaotic situation.
Merritt wasn’t done leading, though.
He then pivoted from the crowd to shout words of encouragement to his teammates on the field. After all, they, too, were a bit confused. And they found themselves trailing 1-0.
“Everybody’s body language was getting down,” Merritt said. “When you get down, you gotta get back up. When you get knocked down, you gotta get back up. That’s just how life works.”
Woodland would later score two runs and earn a 2-1 victory over Fort Vancouver.
The Trappers had a long post-game huddle, going over the season and saying their goodbyes.
“I’m just truly lucky,” Butterfield said. “The win column doesn’t mean anything to me because we got here, and we tried our hardest, and we developed guys who had never played baseball before, and not many programs can say that. Being a Trapper is an honor.”
The attitudes Friday evening were genuine.
They provide evidence to coaches, athletic administrators, and fans that a team does not have to make it to the playoffs in order to have a winning season.
In high school sports, there are plenty of champions at the bottom of the standings, too.
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