Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Finish of spring sports brings abrupt end for athletes
The high school sports season tends to just come to an abrupt end in the spring.
While the Taconic High baseball team continues to play, for every other Berkshire County team, the season and the school year end together.
It's one thing when your high school football team or soccer team loses its last regular-season or tournament game. Multiple-sport athletes get to come back in a week or two and start dribbling basketballs, cutting weight for wrestling or jumping into the swimming pool.
The same thing happens at the end of the winter season, because, after all, there is still baseball, softball, track and field or tennis to compete in.
That is not the case in the spring sports season. The day your team plays its final game, whether you win or lose, it becomes time to pack up the uniforms and equipment until next year.
That point was driven home to me on Monday, when the Pittsfield baseball team lost to eventual Western Massachusetts Division I champion East Longmeadow in a semifinal game.
I asked PHS outfielder Jon Halse about putting the season that ended minutes earlier into perspective. That's not always an easy question to answer.
"The ride started a lot earlier than this year," he told me. "We've been playing for a long time. It started like when we were eight, and it ends now."
Halse got choked up as he finished the answer.
That quote did not make the game story, but the Pittsfield senior expanded on that in a response to me and others on Twitter.
"This part didn't make the paper, but yesterday @howardherman asked me what this journey has meant to me," he wrote. "It has meant everything. Over the past 10 years, my guys have allowed me to briefly leave reality and go out every spring and summer day and play the best game ever."
It was a series of heartfelt responses to a question that players don't always like to answer.
Pittsfield wasn't the only team to have its season end abruptly with a tournament loss. The Mount Greylock girls lacrosse team did the same. But unlike the baseball game, the Mounties were out of the game early in a 19-1 loss to Central/Western Mass. Division II champion Bromfield.
Like Halse, I asked Mount Greylock's Carolyn Jones about the journey that her team took to the sectional championship game. While the Mounties did not win a title, they did become the first Berkshire County lacrosse team to bring home a trophy in consecutive seasons.
"No one thought we could do this," Jones told me. "We had a losing record. We lost so many seniors last year. We have such a young team. I think we all just realized that we don't want to stop playing with our seniors. We love them too much and we wanted to keep playing with them for as long as possible, and we did."
Jones wasn't quite done with her answer.
"I'm so incredibly happy and proud of this team. I've made bonds with some of these girls, especially the seniors, that I think I'll never lose," she said. "I'll visit them in college. That's how much they meant to me, and how much they meant to the entire team."
Trophies sit in cases at the high school. Jackets commemorating sectional and/or state championships are worn for a while and then frequently go back in the closet.
It's the memories of the journey — as both Halse and Jones said — that are what might be the most important thing about sports this time of the year.
The games are over. If you're a senior, they might be over forever. But those are years you will never, ever forget.
The players in the same uniforms as you are your brothers or your sisters. You've been through a lot with them since April.
So, if you are sitting by the pool or on the beach, working at your summer job, playing summer sports, or if you're a Taconic baseball player who still has a game or two to play, take a few minutes to think about your teammates, your friends and what the season has meant to you.
Down the road, those memories will burn as brightly as any trophy.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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