St. Petersburg, FL, April 2 - The team was woken up on Sunday by Tom Whalen '09. It wasn't the Easter Bunny, but his infectious spirit made everyone hop out of bed. When the boys arrived at St. Paul's Catholic Church, Fr. Jonathan graciously welcomed them just like last year. Afterward, the team had a long practice where they worked on situational hitting and fielding. During first and third drills, Tyler Coy '20 made everyone aware that he finds little trouble throwing guys out attempting to steal.
The annual dinner with parents was held at Tsunami (a Hibachi restaurant). Jack Coyne '18 wanted to get some ice cream on Grayson Schaefer's '19 birthday, but DQ was closed for the holiday. It was lights out in preparation for the next day's doubleheader.
The Crusaders were anxious to play the first real game of the season and losing was not an option. The team arrived at the ballpark extremely focused and this intensity showed on the field as the Crusaders won a hard-fought victory 6-4 over the Georgia War Eagles. The defense and pitching both did their jobs in the win, highlighted by Steven Skomra '18 striking out three straight batters, with a runner on third, to close out the game. The boys had little time before a road trip to Sarasota to take on Out-of-Door Academy Thunder. It was a tough team to face, but the Crusaders never gave up. Schaefer and Chris Rowan '20 were able to quiet the Thunder's bats and give the team a chance to rally. A 5-0 loss left the team unsatisfied with offense, and it will surely become of major focus in future practices. Coach Trey Gardner arranged a dinner near the field to watch the NCAA final. After an extremely long day, the boys went directly to sleep. Until tomorrow.
St. Petersburg, FL, March 31 - The team was woken up on Friday by Coach Trey Gardner and quickly had to get ready for practice. Pick-off moves were stressed at the beginning, and Ben Ciocca '18 spent a lot of time visualizing pitch-outs. A short batting practice was once again led by Dale Podlas '87, and the team was off to the Fuller complex ready to compete. The Georgia Sox were a formidable foe, but for much of the game, the Crusaders controlled the play. Dan Tocco '20 hit a go-ahead RBI and the pitching staff of Brian Herrmann '19, Grayson Schaefer '19, Jack Collins '18 and Chad Lacivita '19 kept the Sox at bay for most of the game, but a seventh inning defensive collapse was an important lesson to learn from.
Following the scrimmage, the team went to Olive Garden for some Good Friday pasta dishes. Everyone at the restaurant was serenaded by a happy birthday song given to Cole Margerum '19. Video games back at the hotel are a great way for the team to relax after a hard days work. Unfortunately for RJ Brandon '18, Connor Retell '18 and Nick DeLuca '18 got the better of him.
The following day, the Crusaders had a rough go against the Georgia Sox. The boys are intent on improving from the past while remembering positive takeaways. Jack Arnold '19, for example, had a long at bat at the end of the game. He fought off eight pitches before drawing a walk. Coach Trey Gardner knows that this will not be the last time the team faces some adversity. It's all about how the boys respond, and they are fully aware of that. After a nice break filled with Hungry Howie's and video games, the Crusaders went to Tropicana Field to watch the Devil Rays take on the Red Sox. Brian Herrmann was not afraid of the home crowd and donned as much Sox apparel as possible. The Red Sox took the victory, and the boys went to bed early before Easter Sunday. Until tomorrow.
St. Petersburg, FL, March 29 - The Crusaders awoke to a beautiful and sunny morning. After a quick complimentary "breakfast," the team loaded up the vans and trekked to the historic Huggins-Stengel Field. An irrigation project wasn't going to stop Jack Coyne '18 from enlightening the rookies about its olden days. It has been told that the Great Bambino blasted a home run into the middle of the park lake, a modest 650 feet. A flock of spectators gathered at the first base dugout, most notably "Big Pete" and Co.
A strong showing of defensive work led off the practice. The outfield, led by Dale Podlas '87, set the tone early in what proved to be a very productive day. After a few hours, the focus shifted to a "couple" of the intricacies of base-running. There was just enough time to fit in some "poles," a staple running drill at Florida spring training. The break in between at the hotel was riddled with naps and refueling in preparation for the second practice. A trip to Mazzaro's for some food was also important for any visit to the Tampa area.
The next visit to the field involved an extended batting practice. Afterward, dinner at Chick-fil-A made the boys feel like true Southerners. Jack Coyne failed to get his dinner for a long time, but his patience was rewarded with a free milkshake. Once back at the hotel, the team settled in with a Holy Thursday service led by Tom Whalen '06. Discussions were dominated by opening day baseball, and lights were out pretty early on a truly exhausting day. As Dale Podlas would say, the team had it between the ears all day long. Until tomorrow.
Buffalo, NY and Tampa, FL, March 28 - It remained dark outside, but the smell of jet fuel was an unwelcome (yet necessary) wake up call. Well, except RJ Brandon '18, who was asleep within minutes of boarding. There was a short break in sleep when Tyler Coy '20 received a birthday shoutout from the flight attendant before takeoff. But by 7:02, the Canisius High School baseball team was ready for spring training. It's been a long wait, but the anticipation was able to calm Ben Ciocca's '18 fear of flying.
Upon arrival in Tampa, the annual "Wait for Mr. Whalen '06 to Get the Vans" began. Suitcases, baseball bags, and other paraphernalia loitered the airport sidewalk. To the surprise of passers-by, everything was able to fit. And after what felt like a lifetime of waiting, the vans were off to the beautiful Quality Inn Suites. Not everyone had a seat on the drive, but Jack Coyne '18 certainly kept his van entertained. And Mr. Wolf's '09 twelve point turn into the parking lot was to be admired for its effort, not necessarily for its execution.
The team then proceeded to a brief hitting practice at the Fuller Complex. The practice was crisp and clean, and the boys were battling jet lag. Coach Dale Podlas '87 made sure that no such thing would affect the scrimmage. The speech undoubtedly worked as the team romped Central Catholic 11-0 in a shortened affair. Jake Podlas '18 led the team with 3 RBI, and Steve Skomra '18 pitched two lights-out innings before handing the reigns to Chris Rowan '20 and Cole Margerum '19. Much to Nick DeLuca's '18 chagrin, his soft grounder to second was ruled an error.
Back at the hotel, Hungry Howie's and Ya Ya's were the restaurants of choice. The players then visited Publix to get food for the week, while the annual "Most Expensive Room Award" goes to Winny Wentura '18. All in all, the team had one goal in mind: to be better today than they were yesterday. Thanks to Paul Smaldone '60, they each got a little faster, a little stronger, and a little quicker. Until tomorrow.