Fun night for all stars
Winning, losing not overly important in this exhibition
NILES — To say it was a balmy and humid evening at Eastwood Field Monday evening might be an understatement, with parents piling in to see a collection of local high school seniors suit up for an encore performance capping off many careers.
Donning red tops as the home team, Trumbull Country won the yearly exhibition over the visiting Mahoning Country All-Stars 5-4, thanks to a game-winning double off the bat of Howland’s Josh McCleery that scored Liberty’s Dwight Parker in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“You get bragging rights,” commented Hubbard’s Evans Jarvis with a laugh following the win. “I can tell them that we won, and you guys lost, so it feels good.”
Regardless of the final outcome, there was plenty of pictures being taken with smiles following the event, with every player and coach being provided a wooden bat to commemorate the achievement, along with plenty of hugs and high-fives.
With all of the camaraderie shared within the sport of baseball, from little league to travel ball, it’s no surprise that plenty of the athletes on display Monday evening knew each other well, with some forming friendships many years ago.
“This means a lot to me,: Western Reserve’s Jake Papagallo said. “My family has always pushed me to my limits, and teammates, and Coach Ed (Anthony), I thank them all. I appreciate them all. It means a lot to me. All of these guys are special. I mean we’re all here for a reason, but it means a lot to me that we can all expect what we get.
“We got playing time, we all played, we all played good, and had fun.”
As with every sport, there was some level of uncertainty going into the academic year, especially after spring athletes lost their 2020 campaigns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For someone like Fitch’s Jake Lawrence, the loss of an entire season caused a newfound love for the game.
“Don’t take it for granted, and enjoy the time you had,” he said. “I mean losing the year, it’s like losing part of your life.
I was devastated, and this year made me realize how much I really enjoyed it.
“I can say that there’s a new appreciation and a new level of how much I care about baseball. It’s really grown over the past few months.”
Baseball as a sport has had its impact on the lives of many of the All-Star selections, with life lessons to be learned on and off the diamond — more so in a sport where athletes find themselves around a variety of different ball players over their career.
“You learn how to play with other guys, and how to treat people, and it’s a sportsman thing,” commented Jarvis, who recorded an RBI double on Monday. “I think for me that’s the biggest thing, because I was never one of those guys that would talk crap to the other teams and stuff, just being nice to people.”
Fitch, Howland, and Champion all had three representatives, with Boardman, Canfield, Cardinal Mooney, East, Lowellville, Poland, Springfield, West Branch, Western Reserve, Liberty, Girard, Bristol, Chalker, Hubbard, Warren JFK, Mathews, McDonald, Newton Falls, and Warren G. Harding all sending at least one player to the annual contest.
McCleery, the hero of Monday evening’s game was more than ecstatic following the win over their rivals from below the border.
“I love it man, I know half of those kids on that team over there, I play with them almost all year,” McCleery said. “My senior year was the most fun year I’ve ever had with all of my friends, because I’ve played with them since I was six years old, it was just great.
“Never give up, I mean you could be down 5-0 in the last inning and win.”
Battling through a plethora of minor injuries during the 2021 season, Lawerence found himself in the ice bath more often than not, but was determined to see the field as often as possible.
“I’m definitely someone who’s a little more resilient,” he said. “I’m definitely a little hard-headed, so I’m always willing to come back. With losing last year through the pandemic, it definitely helped me realize how much this means to me, and how much I want to come back.”