As fireworks exploded beyond the left-field fence, Jared Glinski and his Western Division teammates raced around the bases at Bank of the James Stadium following the Ronnie Roberts Senior Classic.
Glinski and friends made that same trot, though it probably took a few more strides, years ago when they were little kids. Back then, Glinski explained, the minor-league Lynchburg Hillcats let children run the bases after games. So that journey on the base paths during July 4 represented a full-circle moment, one that elicited all kinds of emotions.
In the aftermath of the contest, which featured three dozen or so baseball players — all of them recent graduates — from all eight Seminole District schools, the happiness that had been missing for months because of the coronavirus pandemic had returned.
“Probably one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in my life,” said Glinski, the promising catcher and slugger. Glinski, normally calm and composed for postgame chats, let a smile spread across his face and his personality shine through.
The days to come may be filled with some sense of sadness with the end of his high school career, he said, but July 4, that feeling couldn’t come within 100 feet of him or his fellow athletes.
Families felt the same as they saw their sons enjoy the sport they love after months away from the diamond. The classic offered a sense of satisfaction.
“I had a lot of parents thanking me,” said Chris Jones, the Hillcats president and general manager who came up with the idea for the game and helped make it a reality, “and that’s what it was all about, giving [athletes] their last shot. That means a lot to us.”
Coaches, meanwhile, experienced similar feelings. Their springs weren’t filled with game-planning or practices, as is normally the case. They, like their players, didn’t get to put their skills to the test on the diamond.
Jeremy Sink, the Liberty High coach who is a self-professed “emotions-on-my-sleeve” guy, said there were moments during the game when he had to keep the tears from slipping down his cheek.
“When [Nathan] Porterfield hit that rocket up the middle and scored two runs,” he said of one of the players from his school, “I got watery, because I know how much this meant to this senior class.”
Sink said the atmosphere at the senior classic — on a ball field normally reserved for the pros, with 1,000 fans in attendance — gave his players a sense of pride. Without any of the scheduled high school games this season, athletes couldn’t build that themselves, but the July 4 soiree handed them what was lost.
“These guys, they felt like major leaguers,” Sink said. “…One of them said, ‘Coach, I feel like I’m in ‘The Show’ right now.’”
After the Western Division team, made up of players from Jefferson Forest, Brookville, Heritage and Liberty, took home the 7-4 win over the Eastern squad composed of Liberty Christian, Rustburg, E.C. Glass and Amherst — a result Glinski jokingly said he plans to hold over his friends for a while — players settled in to watch the postgame show.
They joked and laughed with each other, then posed for photos on the field for family and friends. Saturday’s game for recent grads, the seniors in the Class of 2020 who had their swan song seasons stolen by the pandemic, offered healing.
For one night, players and coaches could forget all they’d lost.
Their families and friends could make joyful memories of seeing their beloved players on the field again. They, in turn, showed their gratitude with a postgame standing ovation for those players and coaches, who’d poured years of their lives into their crafts.
And the Lynchburg community, while taking in the sport that carries with it nostalgia and a return to simplicity, could forget, for one night, the trials the country is facing.
The classic, Sink said, was “a big part of the healing process.”
With only one team at the end of each season coming away with the ultimate, state title win, most seasons end in despair. But on this night, things wrapped up in a different manner.
Thanks to the support of the Hillcats and the community, these players saw bleakness turn to joy.
In the face of heartache, all those who were part of the event embraced hope — the best possible outcome for the spring 2020 season.
Emily Brown covers the Hillcats, ODAC and high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529.
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