Three of Area’s Best Wrap Up Baseball Careers

This article appeared in the Petoskey News Review on June 11, 2015.

 

In just a week’s time, no more than about thirty male high school athletes will be celebrating something that thousands of others dreamed of, but somehow came up short.  Winning your last high school sporting contest is reserved to the handful of seniors who play for the four class champions of the baseball season.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure to write about the Boyne City Ramblers great runs in football and basketball.  Both teams ended up losing in the semi-finals and both teams brought great pride to our area and taught us all lessons we can use as players, coaches, and community members.  With high expectations, thanks to the football and basketball teams, the Boyne City baseball team put up one its best regular season records, but fell early in the playoffs to Charlevoix.   

At the precise moment the last out is made, the very worst part of being a high school coach descends from somewhere on the dark side.  Very soon, perhaps in minutes, you have to make sense out of what just happened to a group of eighteen year olds who were already planning on playing next weekend and beyond.  Despite the numerous times I have had to have that talk, there is no easy way to look tremendous young men in the eyes and tell them that it’s going to be ok.

At the end of each season, I have my post-game chat with the team and then I dismiss the underclassmen so the seniors and I can share a private moment.  My first and constant battle is to keep the tears that are lined up and ready to pour to stay where they are…at least until one of the boys cracks first.  It is the brutal finality of losing the last game of an athletic career that has to be dealt with. When football ends their season, the guys have two more seasons for redemption.  Even basketball players get one more chance to go out as state champions. But baseball? It’s over and there are no more chances.

Dalton Gardner played on Boyne City’s football and basketball teams as a senior.  He was also the centerfielder and a pitcher on the baseball team. Gardner is one of these quiet stars who, while a tremendous competitor, never seems to have time for self-promotion.  One of his best hitting games of the year was in that season-ending loss to Charlevoix but he never mentioned that in talking with him about that game. He was, in fact, hard pressed to identify the moment he thought the season was over.  “When we got down five runs I thought there’s no way we’re coming back. But we did. And then when we got down five again, I thought there’s no way we’re losing this. But we did.” His regrets were focused on his teammates. Senior catcher Max Cuper was his first concern.  “Max spent all year trying to keep us focused and in games. I feel he felt the worst about our loss.”

When asked about his best baseball memories, all he could think about was the way he was able to help underclassmen get adjusted to the varsity. “I remember when I got called up as a freshman, guys helped me out.  When I got to be a junior and senior I had to pass that along.” Despite three really outstanding years on the varsity, his hit in the last inning of the district game he played as a freshman was something he’ll never forget.  He and fellow senior Maceo Vroman had been called up just before districts and with two outs in the seventh they each reached base and rode home with the tying and winning runs one batter later.

Having been on a football team and a basketball team that lost in the state semi-finals…both in excruciatingly painful fashion, Gardner didn’t hesitate to say the baseball loss was the hardest to take.  “We got a lot further in basketball and football than anyone thought we would. I wanted that same thing to happen in baseball. But it didn’t and now there are no more chances to prove people wrong.” Next year, Gardner is off to Western Michigan University to be the punter.  My guess is he’ll be spending a lot of time around the baseball diamond too.

Up the road from Boyne City, one of our area’s best players finished his season in a shut-out loss to Mt. Pleasant in the Class B Regional final.  Jordan Swiss, who has definitely not played his last competitive baseball game, had to deal with his final moments as a Northman. When we chatted on the day after the game, I asked him to recount some of the best moments of his career.  Not surprisingly, he talked extensively about his team’s walk-off wins. He talked about teammates who accomplished things that went beyond what was expected of them.

He had one story from his personal highlight reel that will make every genuine baseball fan smile.  Swiss recounted a game from three years ago when he was playing for the varsity as a sophomore. “We went down to Alpena and I was facing Tim Atkinson who later played JUCO…he was pretty good…I got a full-count and I got a pitch that was down in the zone.  I hit and I knew I hit it well but it looked like a pop-up. So I ran thinking maybe a double and then I heard this thud. I had hit the scoreboard!” Three years later and he remembers the pitcher, the count, and the location of the ball. Those are the memories baseball players can relive the rest of their lives.  

I followed up that question with how he felt after the Mt. Pleasant loss.  Petoskey fell 6-0 in that game and they got no hits off the Mt. Pleasant ace.   Swiss, while admitting to never giving up, felt this loss was not as painful as it otherwise might have been.  “I feel that if it had a little bit of a closer…I would have been more emotional about it. But because of the degree that we loss…by the seventh inning, we sort of had a feeling that it was over.”  Swiss was due up fourth in that final inning and watched helplessly as the Northmen were retired in order. Perhaps it was fitting, in a Greek tragedy sort of way, that Swiss was on deck when his high school career ended.  

His most emotional moment came not at the end, but in the sixth when he headed to the dugout and saw one of his teammates, known for his upbeat nature and sense of spirit and humor, sitting on the bench with his head in his hands.  Swiss stood there and watched him for a full minute and then came to understand that, barring a miracle, all of them had reached the end. No more practices. No more interactions with Coaches Racignol and Loper. No more walk-off wins.

Right down US-31 from Petoskey, Will Telgenhof had a great career at Charlevoix High School.  The Rayders came into the year feeling they had some unfinished business to accomplish after losing the opening game of Districts last season.  (I can’t remember who beat them.) But Telgenhof’s season was nearly over before the first pitch was even thrown. During football season he suffered a serious shoulder injury.  Surgery was needed, but Telgenhof made the only decision guys who love baseball could make. He would put off the surgery and play designated hitter all season so he could help his team reach their goal.   He admitted that adjusting to playing DH was hard. “It took a while to get used to not playing in the field. But after a slow start I figured it out.”

He had another outstanding season at the plate and led Charlevoix to another 20+ win season.  But like Gardner and Swiss, his season came to an abrupt end before he was ready for it to be done. The Rayders lost to Mancelona in the district final, but he had no excuses. “Their pitcher was great.  He had a curveball we couldn’t hit.” What’s worse for Telgenof is that he was at bat with the tying runs on base when he flew out to right field to end the game, the season, and his career. When asked whether he thought his fly ball would drop, he said “Nah…I knew it was going to be caught.  But I was hoping for a something to happen. But it didn’t.”

His last game also marked the last high school game for his father, Allen, who announced he was retiring.  Will described the post-game meeting as quiet and tearful. They all knew their dream of playing deep into the tournament was over and that none of the seniors would ever get another shot.  And neither would their coach.

Getting Will to describe his best memory of his high school career was just as tough as getting Gardner or Swiss to talk about themselves.  “My best memory was the 2013 season. We were 27-3, undefeated in conference, and won the district. No one expected that.” When pressed to supply something about his personal exploits, he somewhat reluctantly admitted that making First Team All-State as a junior in baseball was pretty special.  Unlike Swiss and Gardner, however, he has no plans to continue playing varsity sports in college. He is off to MSU in the fall to pursue an education…and maybe try his hand at club sports. He’ll have to get that shoulder repaired first.

In ten years he expects his memories will all be tied up in the friendships and teammates he played with in all three sports throughout his high school career.   Someone will probably have to remind him that he was a pretty outstanding player too.

So while quite deserving in many ways, neither Gardner, Swiss, nor Telgenhof will be among the thirty or so seniors who get to win their last high school baseball game.  And it’s all very final for all of us. Until next year, when it all starts all over again.

 

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One Comment on “Three of Area’s Best Wrap Up Baseball Careers”

  1. richard scott June 2, 2019 at 1:50 pm #

    Good to read your words on one of the elements of life you love

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