Pace Patriots baseball team welcomes NPC reporter for practice
I’m 24, not too far from my athletic career, and Pace Baseball head coach Jason McBride said I’d be on his baseball team.
But would I play for Florida’s No. 1 team in Class 6A? He was a little more reluctant to say that.
As an athlete or a fan, we have all heard and seen people shouting their superiority from the sidelines or on social media.
Obscenities going as far as “I could have touched this pitch!”, “Throw a shot, why not!” and, “I would have easily followed that flying ball!”
Well, I’m here to set an example; Think before you speak. Practicing with the Pace baseball team opened my eyes to the quality of these kids at what they do. While some of the sideline hecklers may have been good in their day, you quickly lose that touch when you’re not as well trained as those guys.
Sure, I could do some of the things they did, but not as easily or naturally. And while I’m a good athlete, baseball isn’t exactly my sport, so it was humbling.
Here’s a breakdown of what a Pace practice looks like and how I fared against some of the best in the state:
On this Monday afternoon of training, the Patriots anticipated an important week. A match against Booker T. Washington on Tuesday and a highly anticipated match with Tate on Friday.
They took the time to start the week quietly, thank God.
As a former central defender myself, I took part in outfield drills to start the day. It was simple at first, then got a little more exciting as we worked our way through things.
It started with the basics, like footwork. Each outfielder had to start with a drop step and run in a certain direction, where the coach would then throw a short ball to you. After doing this from all possible angles, we came to an exercise called three balls.
You start with your back to the outfield fence and keep running towards the infield as Coach Wesley Buckley hits you in line. The goal? To circle the three balls. Some came off the bat as line drives, others were hard-hit grounders.
It started to separate the men from the boys.
Honestly, the terrain was my strong point, so I did pretty well. But compare me side-by-side with one of these guys, and I look out of place. Although I did most of the games, including a bounding grab, you could tell I was a little rusty.
Pace players moved fluidly, picking up most balls effortlessly while I had to put some work into it. And, to top it off, I fell. Trying to reach my body for a hot kick, my feet tangled up and down, I went.
Impossible to win them all.
Walking in is where I thought I would be troubled.
Getting into the batting box is such a mental game, and I’ve had the yaps since leaving my college club team in 2018.
That said, I surprised myself. We started with coaches practicing batting, where each batter had to lay down a bunt, followed by five hits. Through four rotations, I hit balls pretty hard and laid down probably the bunt of the day.
But what surprised me was probably laughable to them.
While I spent my time hitting hard ground balls and putting them in play, my batting group of Broc Parmer, Jackson McKenzie and Alex McCranie took turns smoking balls over the outfield fence despite the wind blowing strongly inland.
Parmer, in particular, impressed with his fluid left swing. The technique was solid and with every ball he hit you could see the flames coming out of the back. Not all of his homers were questionable, but that’s why he’s one of the best players in the region and, as his coaches said, “the most powerful player to ever go through the program.”
After the BP coach-field segment, practice was closed with the pitching machine. It was clocked between the high 80s and low 90s, and that’s when things got a little too advanced for me.
Rhythm, no problem. These guys kept hitting lines and bombs to clear the fences. I staked my five swings live, but they were probably some of the softest on the ground you’d ever seen. Also, they all pricked my hands because my swing timing wouldn’t allow me to find the barrel.
Needless to say, the next time you feel the need to shout something from the sidelines about how pathetic a certain batting or field decision was, just remember that I’m probably better than you and that I didn’t get too hot.
Our local high schoolers have put countless hours into their craft, and getting live reps with them just proved that no one can step in and do that, especially with a team as well respected as the Patriots.
Hats off to this baseball program, coaches and players alike, for its continued success and for allowing me to come and experience what good baseball really looks like.
Lucas Semb can be reached at Lsemb@pensacol.gannett.com or 850-281-7414. Follow him on Twitter at @Lucas_Semb for stories and various Pensacola area score updates.
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