CLEVELAND - Yes, it's possible for a 17-year-old young man to feel even younger when he's given the chance to play baseball on a field normally reserved for the big boys.
The Howland Tigers were one of several teams that participated Friday in the Cleveland Indians Charities (CIC) Hardball Classic at Progressive Field, home of the Indians. The outcome wasn't what the Tigers wanted (a 6-4 loss to Parma Franciscan High School), but the experience was one that few of the players will ever forget.
"It was awesome. The atmosphere was great," Howland senior Zac Wilson said. "I couldn't wish to play anywhere better than here."
Nothing against the friendly confines of home that is the Tigers' field at Howland Community Park, but it doesn't rival Progressive Field. There seemed to be more jump in the step of the players. When a few Tigers were sent to the bullpen to begin warming up, they sprinted the distance like 5-year-olds running to an ice cream stand.
"It was fun to look around and think that Major League players play here every day," said junior Jacob Froats, who had two hits and drove in three runs for Howland.
"A lot of people from our community came out today. You wanted to play well today."
The Tigers are fortunate to have a manager that has experience playing on the field. Jason Stanford had a brief career as a pitcher with the Indians in 2003. He knows firsthand the feeling of playing between the lines at Progressive.
"Before we came out (I told them) just to play hard and respect the game and go about it the right way and experience everything," Stanford said. "Live it up as much as they could."
Stanford had a few flashbacks sitting in the home team's dugout along the third-base line. It wasn't long ago that he was trying to live out his boyhood dream of making it as a Major Leaguer.
"Oh yeah, memories come back," Stanford said. "Going out to the mound and talking to some of the guys and reliving some of the memories I've had. It's been great."
The reference point for the players doesn't go back very far. Kenny Lofton roaming center field is ancient history to them. They were thinking more along the lines of Grady Sizemore.
"You take a second and step back and think about it," Wilson said. "Wow, it's amazing how big and nice it is."
The Tigers had matters under control when they took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning, but the Bruins sent 10 batters to the plate to score five runs. The first three batters reached safely off Howland reliever Tanner Scott. Joey Shver entered and promptly gave up a two-run single to Nick Mog.
A single by Nick Hoy drove in Anthony Ortiz with the final run of the inning.
The Tigers scored two runs in the first inning on a single by Froats that sent home Kenny Pozega and Corey Hickman. Pozega singled with one out, and Hickman followed with a double.
Chris Yamnitsky scored a run for the Bruins in the third inning on a wild pitch. The Tigers answered with one run in the bottom of the third when Froats singled in Pozega.
The Tigers added a run in the seventh inning.
What mattered most was the creation of memories that will last a lifetime.
"It was a lot of fun," Froats said. "I'll always remember this one."