Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Welcome to the Show

B-CC and Whitman baseball teams get a taste of the Major Leagues, play a game at Nationals Park

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Whitman’s Henry Kuhn cheers from second base at Nationals Park, where Whitman played its regular-season finale against B-CC last week.
In terms of playoff-seeding consideration, last Tuesday’s baseball game between the Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Whitman high schools held no meaning. Neither team could claim a top-four position in the regional playoffs with a victory or lose one of those coveted spots through defeat.

That said, the players and coaches on both squads will never forget Whitman’s 5-1 victory. Not for how the game was played, although both performed well during the seven-inning affair, but for where it was played — Nationals Park, the brand-new home of the Washington Nationals.

‘‘It was a fantastic experience,” Barons junior third baseman Jake Boross said. ‘‘We played on the same field and stood in the same outfield and in the same batter’s box [as Major Leaguers]. I play third base and some people came up to me and said you’re standing in the same spot [Nationals starting third baseman] Ryan Zimmerman stands 81 times a year. We’re just so grateful for Coach [Jonas] Singer for making that happen.”

As the deputy director of RBI — the revitalization of baseball in inner cities, a branch of the Batter-Up Foundation — Singer, B-CC’s first-year coach and a former player at the school, learned of the Nationals’ plans to host high school baseball games through a member of the Batter-Up Foundation board, Barbara Silva, the Chairman of the Board for Batter-Up and the Director of Community Relations for the Nationals.

Singer, Whitman parent Hugh Kelly, whose son Chris plays for the Vikings, and Silva then worked out the details to move Tuesday’s game to Nationals Park. It was originally scheduled for May 7 at Whitman.

‘‘It was just a great opportunity,” Singer said. ‘‘[The park] was spectacular and it was just a great experience. We take real pride in our field but it’s nothing compared to the quality of the facility. It was like out of a dream and an experience we’ll probably never get again.”

That fact wasn’t lost on the Whitman players either, including senior Brian Gobish, who went 1 for 2 with a run batted in Tuesday night.

‘‘It was so exciting,” he said. ‘‘It was a blast. A lot of people showed up. I didn’t expect that many. They stopped counting after 1,200. I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Despite the larger-than-usual crowd — Boross joked that of the 1,000-plus people in attendance, there were roughly 950 more fans than are normal at his team’s games — Singer and Whitman first-year coach Joe Cassidy, who guided Wootton to the 4A West Region final a year ago, said both teams settled down and played an error-free game.

‘‘I think it helped getting there so early,” said Cassidy, who brought and played 20 players, including throwing six different pitchers. ‘‘We were allowed on the field at 4:15 p.m. [for a 6 p.m. game]. They were running around and looking in the dugouts and bullpens.

‘‘They were calling each other on the phones between the two places, running around in the outfield trying to make leaping catches of the padded wall. It took a good half hour to 45 minutes for the kids to stop wandering around looking at the stadium.”

The experience turned out a little sweeter for the Vikings (10-6), which overcame a 1-0 first-inning deficit with three runs in the third inning and one each in the fourth and sixth innings to upend their neighborhood rivals. Besides Gobish, Matt Kaler drove in two runs and Max Hilbert knocked in one for Whitman, which was to open the 4A West Region playoffs Tuesday against Walter Johnson in a game completed too late for this edition of The Gazette.

‘‘I thought it was a well played game,” said Singer, whose 8-7 team was to play Urbana in a first-round 3A West Region contest Tuesday, again completed too late for this edition of The Gazette. ‘‘We gave a solid effort. They had a couple more timely hits. We just really appreciate the opportunity the Nationals gave us.”