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Touching the Bases: Sharon Intent on Producing Varsity Baseball

  • Sharon Academy Assistant Coach Camden Morrison directs the junior varsity and middle school teams' sprints in the gym while practicing stealing from a pitcher's windup in Sharon, Vt., on March 29, 2017. This is the first year the school will have a JV baseball team, with the hope to become a varsity program next season. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Geoff Hansen

  • Associate Head Coach Spike Carter, right, gives Sharon Academy junior Aiden Trimble pointers on his form while doing strength exercises at baseball practice in Sharon, Vt., on March 29, 2017. The school is switching from a club sport to a junior varsity program this season. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sharon Academy junior Caleb Eastman, left, and home-school student Christopher Pellegrino work out with their baseball teammates in Sharon, Vt., on March 29, 2017. Eastman is the team's starting pitcher and Pellegrino their first baseman. Baseball has been played at Sharon Academy since 2003 as a club sport and is switching to a junior varsity program this season due to the high interest from the junior class. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/5/2017 12:30:19 AM
Modified: 4/5/2017 12:30:20 AM

Sharon — Can Sharon Academy support a long-term baseball program? How does a school with 169 students make baseball sustainable without a varsity-sized field to play on? What happens when this season’s seven juniors, all close friends and all ultra-dedicated to the sport, graduate in two years?

TSA athletic director Blake Fabrikant isn’t sure yet. Head coach Dave Eastman and associate coach Spike Carter haven’t looked that far ahead. But ask around at one of their practices and you’ll find a shared feeling of responsibility among coaches and athletes to not only want to upgrade Sharon baseball to varsity, but make sure it’s sustainable for the future.

Sharon’s baseball team was upgraded to a junior varsity squad from a club team starting this spring. Its 12 athletes will play a jayvee schedule after two seasons of club competition with a mixed roster of middle school and high school athletes. Already there are plans to move the program up to varsity next year.

Now it’s up to Eastman and his group to make sure it stays moving in the right direction.

“It was really awesome to know because before that, baseball at this school wasn’t an established sport,” said starting pitcher and third baseman Caleb Eastman, Dave’s son. “It kind of meant that we were an established sport here, which is great. … I think we have work to do to definitely grow the program, but I think it’s well on its way to success and being established here.”

Baseball has had a presence at Sharon since 2003, but always at the club or middle school levels. Andrew Lane, now the director at TSA’s middle school, was heavily involved in getting baseball off the ground.

“They basically told us (when baseball was first starting at Sharon in 2003), ‘If you can make it happen without it being a huge cost to the budget, go for it,’ ” Lane said. “Our home field was in Washington, Vt. We would practice at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds, behind Tracy’s Midway Station, wherever we could find.”

It wasn’t until the group of Cal Hale, Caleb Eastman, Aiden Trimble, Kyle Hedgepeth, Koltin LeDuc, Chris Pellegrino and Kian Kaufman entered high school two years ago that the possibility of a true baseball program became a reality.

“They were the group that basically said, ‘We’re playing baseball,’ ” said Carter, a TSA alum who played on the Phoenix’s baseball team in the early 2000s. “They said, ‘We want a team. Tell us how to make it happen.’ ”

“They did a lot of the recruiting,” Dave Eastman added. “They pounded the halls and said, ‘You’re playing baseball.’ ”

In 2015, baseball re-emerged at the high school. Two years later, with numbers still stable, Fabrikant decided to put baseball on the path toward varsity. The team went 5-2 last season against junior varsity squads. Questions remain about long-term solutions for a varsity-caliber facility and the team’s overall viability, but those on this year’s squad aren’t worried. They’re just excited to have a team to play on.

“It was a little bit of a concern (that there wouldn’t be a team to play on),” said Hale, a junior pitcher. “In eighth grade, it was something I liked a lot. But it didn’t mean as much to me then as it does now. … I think (moving up to jayvee) means we’re serious.

“If we got to play varsity next year, that would mean a lot to me,” Hale added. “There’s a strong core of us playing who are juniors right now. If we can make it to varsity, people like Tom (Bissaillon), he’s an eighth-grader, I hope he can be the leadership that keeps it going.”

Sharon is scheduled to play 10 games — six away, four at home — starting April 25 against junior varsity squads from Montpelier, Chelsea, Blue Mountain, Brattleboro, Black River, Rivendell and Bradford, Vt.’s Connecticut River Academy. Home games will take place at Sharon Elementary School, although the field is not regulation size for varsity if the team moves up next spring. One potential solution could be a shared home facility at the Chelsea Public School or a full season on the road without any home games.

Lane said playing against tougher opponents is a way to promote the team in itself, which will draw more interest from other athletes.

“I know a couple kids, juniors and seniors, that aren’t playing baseball right now because it’s not varsity,” he said. “Varsity is cool. Being a varsity athlete really matters to them. I think once it goes varsity, that will change the seriousness of how people approach playing baseball at TSA and the recognition it gets from the outside.”

Carter began a midweek practice last week in the TSA gymnasium by leading the squad in yoga as a replacement for traditional stretching.

“We’re a competitive bunch,” Hale said. “We haven’t played any games yet as a jayvee team; we were a club team last year playing against jayvee teams. But I think there’s a feeling that this is the year where it matters even more. Last year, it was about having fun with friends and hopefully winning games. This year, we’ve got to live up to that.

“Winning games is a big part of people wanting to play for a team. I’ve heard about that in other situations where, if people don’t feel like a team is going well, then people could be less likely to get into it. Right now, we’re a team that hasn’t really proven much at all at anything higher than a club level. If we can win games at a jayvee level, or even at a varsity level, that will just bring more people in.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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