Dear spring athletes: A season lost is a reminder to cherish our time with sports



Editor’s note: Sports has been brought to a standstill the past two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. And while there is hope on the horizon — the UFC, NASCAR and the Bundesliga in Germany are among major organizations that have announced plans for their return — there have been many seasons and events that simply have been lost. That has included major and international events, such as the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, and Wimbledon this summer.

But it also has impacted millions of kids on the local level, including high school seniors who saw their spring sports seasons canceled.

One family in Maryland can provide a snapshot of what it was like to see a high school sports career come to an abrupt end. Although it included moments of tears, it also included reflections of how sports can tie friends and generations of a family together.

MORE: How the COVID-19 pandemic might change us

Bennett Solomon, whose senior baseball season was canceled, is a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md. His story was originally published in The Black & White student newspaper at Whitman. His father, Aaron, is the coordinating producer of ESPN’s “Around the Horn.” Aaron’s father, George, was managing editor for The Washington Post from 1975 to 2003. Aaron and George attended the University of Florida, where Bennett plans to attend this fall.

Their stories, including George’s Washington Post column on Aaron’s senior season, follow.

Dear spring athletes …

By Bennett Solomon
The Black & White
Originally published on April 1, 2020

During my past three years as a part of the Whitman baseball program, I had only seen my coach cry once –– tears of joy after our program’s first-ever regional championship my junior year. But after practice on Thursday, March 12 –– the day before students left for a two-week break due to the COVID-19 outbreak –– my coach choked up once again. This time, however, he started to shed tears of sadness. In his mind, we had just finished the final practice of the season.

After I watched my coach cry for only the second time in nearly four years, I walked back to my car with my head down. But what he said didn’t really hit me until the next day. In third period on Friday, I started to cry, too. I started to cry because I realized I wouldn’t be able to play the game I loved competitively before I head off to college. My senior season was going down the drain.

I would think most spring sport athletes feel the same way. Boys and girls tennis were state champions last year. Girls lacrosse, baseball and softball all made it to the state semifinals. Our crosstown rivals, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, ousted boys lacrosse in the second round of the playoffs last year. Athletes want the chance to compete, to avenge last season’s disappointments and to finish each season on a high note –– but that’s the worst part of the situation that athletes, especially the seniors, are in. We won’t get a chance to compete. A chance to win the region. A chance to get back to state tournaments. And the most devastating part: We won’t be able to do what we love the most.

At Whitman, there are hundreds of talented athletes, and some even go on to play at the next level. But a lot of us high school athletes are just going to be regular college kids next year. Maybe we’ll play some club ball here and there, or try intramurals, but there’s no longer going to be a trophy to play for or a banner in the main gym that could don our names. For us senior spring athletes, we won’t be able to put on a Vikings jersey again and compete. No more walk-offs or game-winning goals. No more team sleepovers or haircuts. And because this outbreak is so unprecedented and unpredictable, we can’t do anything about it.

In hopes of being able to play for some of the spring season, athletes from Montgomery County Public Schools and local private schools have been posting pictures or videos of themselves on their Instagram stories playing their sport with the slogan “Let the kids play.” I wish I could say that social media campaigns to bring the spring sports community together would help the cause, but the world is facing a pandemic that is affecting thousands of people every day. Unfortunately, Governor Larry Hogan won’t see these Instagram stories, and with the state having extended the school closure to April 24, it looks like the spring sports season has come to an end for sure.

Bennett Solomon

Seniors: Whether you were a four-year varsity player or even a one-year varsity player, you represented the Vikes while playing the sport you love. Playing sports for your school is a unique opportunity, and I hope my fellow senior spring athletes cherished the time like I did. The Whitman baseball program became a family to me. I developed relationships that will last forever, and I’ll never forget my time as a three-year varsity player. I was a part of history when baseball won its first-ever regional championship ––  not many high schoolers get to say that.

Senior spring athletes at Whitman wish their senior seasons could’ve ended differently; they put in a relentless amount of work in order to achieve their goals over the years. A tip of the cap to all of the senior athletes who devoted so much of their time and effort to being a Vike. And for all the non-seniors, put your jersey on next season with pride. Don’t play for yourself, play for the Vikes and for your teammates. Cherish your time as a part of Whitman athletics because you never know when it’s going to come to an end.

The dust of a season that wasn’t

By Aaron Solomon in 2020 on son Bennett Solomon

My son’s high school baseball career ended on May 21, 2019. Bennett Solomon was playing in the Maryland 4A state semifinal. He was on the mound that night and had pitched the last four innings of the game. He played in front of at least 1,000 people at a beautiful ballpark in Bethesda, Md., named after the great sportswriter, Shirley Povich. The Walt Whitman Vikings lost in walk-off fashion to Old Mill. I’ll always remember the hug he gave me after he came out of the dugout with tears in his eyes (and mine). This loss was going to sting for a while.

I looked up into the stands after that hug and my dad, George Solomon, was still sitting where I had left him. Stunned. Not really accepting what had just happened. He would tell me months later during some summer league game Bennett was playing in that same ballpark, “Shoulda won that game.” Don’t worry, I said, we have his senior season to look forward to.

For a little background, Bennett didn’t have blazing speed, he wasn’t especially ripped, he didn’t throw 85 miles per hour. But he was a ballplayer. Ever since he was a kid, baseball was his love. Yeah, he liked hoops, he liked flag football, he loved to watch all kinds of sports. But he was a ballplayer. Whether it was with his youth rec teams, his high school team, his summer travel teams, dude just wanted to play. Last season alone I’m pretty sure he played upwards of around 60 games between his high school team and summer team. He played well enough to consider pursuing baseball at the collegiate level. He decided late last summer he didn’t want to continue that pursuit.

His dad wondered aloud one day, “What was this was all for?” Why grind through a Sunday doubleheader on some dusty diamond in Maryland or Virginia or New York or Georgia in the middle of July? The son explained it to his dad one of those July days. “Dad, I love to play with my friends and I love the competition.” Well, there you have it.

His friends were guys like Howie Fishman, Sean Fleming, Sam Mermelstein, Ben Ruth, Ryan McIntyre, Conor Walsh, Dev Zoks, Ethan Ridner, Henry Smith. He would spend a lot of time with those guys over his summers. I hope he remains connected to them in some way. Some of the best friendships he’ll ever have will come from his experiences in baseball.

I remember my senior season like it was yesterday. Even certain at-bats, certain plays, certain moments. You go 0-for-5 in a game vs. Springbrook, well, you remember. In fact, my father wrote a column in The Washington Post in 1987 about my senior season at Wootton High School just in case I ever want to refer to it. We were 14-2 and got bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Still stings.

Somehow, it stings worse knowing that Bennett won’t be able to experience that final season. That one last go-round with his boys. Bennett was feeling great as he headed into this season at Whitman. He was a team leader, he was stronger, better than the year before. I wanted to see how it played out. Might have been pretty cool. His junior brother, Bryan, had made the varsity squad this season. It was the first time they would be on a roster together as teammates. Damn, that would have been really cool.

Alas, we’re left to wonder what might have been. But know this, Bennett Solomon — I watched you develop into a great ballplayer, a great teammate, and just a great kid. I’m proud of you. I love you. Here’s to you, No. 34. Helluva run.

The dust of a dream season

For the ballplayers, it was a game; but for their folks

By George Solomon
The Washington Post (1987)

My son’s baseball season ended last Saturday with a hard line drive to right. His team, Wootton High School, lost to Gaithersburg, 2-0, in the first round of the Maryland AA Region I playoffs.

The kids and their coaches, Rhett Ross and Bob Hampton, walked off the home field after the final game with their heads held high, disappointed, but each knowing how much they’d accomplished winning the regular season county AA title with a 14-2 record.

Their parents, however, did not walk off the field. Instead, most of us sat in the bleachers, too stunned to move, too unhappy to be logical (it was, after all, only an extracurricular activity for our kids) and too proud of them to just say “nice try” and let it go at that.

So we sat there in the sun for a long time. It seemed like 20 hours. No matter that last year Wootton won only five games, and the year before just three. This year, our kids spoiled us good, winning games they could have easily lost, coming from behind several times, holding on when you knew the opponent was about to explode, grabbing first place early in the season and holding on, until …

Our kids could only go on to other things: dates, friends, college, MTV. What did we have? Most of us had seen our kids play in 2,200 athletic events since they were 7 (I count each soccer game twice) and can accept the losses with the victories. Some of us even have younger children we can pressure.

“But this is different,” said Nina Spicer, whose son, Scott, is a good catcher whose aggressive style sometimes irritated opposing coaches and excited National Hockey League scouts. “This never should have happened, because these are our kids and this was our year and it was their time.”

But it did happen, and when it did, the kids handled the loss better than their parents. Including the father who has attempted to be coolly objective during his 25 years in sports journalism and used to scoff at a certain coach who once told him, “losing is like death.” Last weekend, I had to agree with that old coach-philosopher, George Allen, especially when I began to visually fantasize (what a fabulous midlife crisis I’m in) a different outcome to Saturday’s game and ponder how we would have done against Wheaton Tuesday if Gaithersburg hadn’t earned the chance. (Wheaton beat Gaithersburg, 9–0 for the title).

The father, thankfully, began to pull himself together and come to his senses two days after “Elimination” when Nina Spicer’s husband, Fred, asked, “Was there a game?”

And Dee Arata, whose son Tommy helped win two late-season games with home runs even though he’s only a sophomore, said she would have to go on with the rest of her life. The same Dee Arata who at the Wootton-Springbrook game two weeks ago turned her back to the playing field and instead fastened her eyes to a pond behind the fence for nearly two hours.

I have good friends whose children excel in music and love to build things. They revel in their youngsters’ academic triumphs and take them to concerts. What they haven’t experienced, however, is the feeling in the pit of your stomach when the game is on the line and your kid can win or lose it for the team.

My friend asks why should a baseball game be considered more important than a piano recital? I have no good answer, other than to say it is, and that I hope my son can take the lessons from his May batting slump to college with the knowledge that freshman English has to be easier than going 0-for-5 against Springbrook.

Nevertheless, when the season is assessed, what will matter most are the moments from games, when a kid’s success could light up the faces of his teammates; when the kids knew they were so much better than they’d ever been before and by the sixth game of the season were officially contenders.

They were coached by two men who enjoyed helping them play to their potential; and encouraged by a group of parents, who while getting a little carried away at times (can I ever go to Wheaton again?), thrilled at the success of their children.

So Mike Hayden, let me say you really were a fine leadoff hitter and second baseman, and while some Seneca Valley parents thought you talked too much, I liked the way you handled yourself these past three years. Tony Riggs, a sophomore, will save his parents tuition money by earning a scholarship in two years. Rich Gregorio hit with power as a senior and set a standard for his sophomore brother, Dennis, to try to match.

Jimmy Baker played third base all season with a pin in his leg from a football injury while his father stood to my left and Hayden’s father to my right –– all of us trying to get Jimmy not to drop his hands while hitting. Spicer was a terrific catcher and could make all-Met next year as a senior if he isn’t first signed by the Philadelphia Flyers to replace Ron Hextall.

Arata has an excellent swing and will be a star next year, as will right-fielder Al Lightsley, who reminds me of Al Kaline, whom Al Lightsley never heard of. Jason Hsu, Jeff Youngs and Richard Choi were key reserves and David Nicklas came on strong as a second starting pitcher.

The star of the team, without a doubt, was senior left-handed pitcher Steve Betz, whose 8–2 record and under-1.50 ERA should get him a college scholarship someplace. Four years ago, as a freshman, Betz was cut from the junior-varsity team. Coach Ross helped teach him how to pitch; his parents taught him class.

Finally, Aaron Solomon, the left-handed hitting first baseman, almost batted .400 as a sophomore, fell below .250 as a junior and then put up Eric Davis-type numbers for the first month of his senior season before coming back to earth with a thud. And when he came to bat for the last time as a high school ballplayer, the score 2-0, with two outs and no one on base in the bottom of the last inning. He wanted a base hit to keep the season going; his mother and I had more modest goals. “Please don’t let him strike out to end the season,” Hazel Solomon whispered.

“No way,” I thought. “The boy stood at the wailing wall in Jerusalem last month. He can’t K.”

Check the book: F-9; end of high school baseball career. Great season.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WP to LinkedIn Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com
%d bloggers like this: