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Jaywalking

Jaywalking: Tight team

There are lots of things to do on a summer evening in our area.

Cooking on the grill, sitting around the campfire or on a patio, or going for a walk or a run as the sun sets are some ways to enjoy the evening and relax.

Another activity that screams summer evenings is taking in a baseball game, and that’s something I’ve been able to do in recent weeks, following the Greenfield Post 81 American Legion Baseball team during its run to the Western Massachussets title and beyond. Post 81 is virtually a Franklin County all-star team of cherry-picked Franklin County high school players. There are whispers out there that some of the other teams in western Mass. are not exactly happy that Greenfield is able to pull from so many schools. But when you consider that many of the other teams are from towns that house Division I high schools, and that they, too, pull players from surrounding towns, it does not seem like Post 81 (primarily made up of Division III and IV schools) is gaining much of an advantage. And I hear it the other way as well from Greenfield supporters — that Greenfield is made up of players from high schools in lower divisions, while these other teams are Division I schools. To me, it seems somewhat of a level playing field. But I don’t know. I don’t really have a dog in the fight.

So how is it that Greenfield has been able to go on this run? The team goes into play today on a 12-game winning streak and is among the top eight Legion teams in the state. Well, it stems from the players on the team. And while that may seem like a no-brainer, consider this: Every summer I cover the Post 81 team, which is typically a pretty good squad. But there are two things that have really stuck out to me this season. The first, most important aspect that has made it a winner is the fact that unlike some other teams in the past, I get the feeling that these players generally enjoy playing.

That may sound stupid, but think about this for a minute: These players have now been practicing baseball since the middle of March, when there was still a thick coating of snow on the ground. That was well over four months ago. That’s a lot of baseball. So I don’t blame the players if they are ready to hang up the gloves and put down the bats this time of year. And many years, you do hear some gripes among the players. We are talking about high school boys who want to take advantage of the summer months by hanging out at the beach, going out with girls, and relaxing. Legion baseball is a big commitment. That said, it is also refreshing to deal with players who are happy to be playing. Case in point: Brody Markol, who missed his own graduation party on Saturday night to play in the State Tournament opener. These guys were genuinely excited to beat Westfield and win the WMass title last week, and know that they will continue to be playing baseball for at least a few more days.

“The four years I played baseball all I wanted was to win a western Mass. championship,” Markol said. “It’s definitely worth all the time. Playing baseball is so much fun, and baseball in the summer time is amazing, especially when you’re winning games. I have no regrets.”

The other thing I have found remarkable about this team is its makeup. I have covered some teams in the past that were lined with all-stars, names that jump off the sports pages and are recognizable to casual high school sports observers. That’s not so much the case with this team, which is mostly devoid of all-stars. Rather, it is filled to the brim with character guys. And that’s not saying that these guys are not all-star players, but they go about their business more quietly, and seem more interested in how the team does rather than their own personal stats.

“Obviously they are very talented,” coach Tim Capuano said, “but they all left their egos at the door coming into the season. It’s not about personal stats or achievements, they just want to win. At this point in the season, the personal stats don’t mean a thing. They are all pulling for each other. It’s really unlike any team I’ve ever been a part of. Usually, you have one or two guys that stand out. But I’d be hard-pressed to pick a captain, because all 17 guys on the team have leadership qualities.”

What’s made the team so enjoyable to cover this summer is that these guys are just having fun. They joke with me, with each other, and with anyone they come in contact with. It’s things like right fielder Jourdan York-Welcome making an error during a game and, while taking practice swings before an at-bat, talking to me about it, saying that someone drove through the outfield and that the ball kicked off a tire divot, causing him to misplay it. It’s things like the players laughing at Brody Markol’s father Mike “The Mouth” Markol, who sticks out his stomach and rubs it when the team is reciting the Legion Code of Ethics, which includes a part about remaining fit. Mike said he does it every game and it’s turned into a good-luck routine.

“We always joke around with each other,” Markol said. “What I love about this team is that if you make an error, they tell you to get the next one. If you strike out, they tell you that you’re going to get a hit next time. Everyone picks each other up and everyone is loose and having fun.”

And that starts at the top. Capuano is in his first year coaching the team and this is the first time he has been a head coach at this level. Capuano has his hands full coaching the team. Because it is essentially an all-star team, he has to be able to manage a team full of guys that are used to being one of the best players on their team at every level growing up. Now, guys who are used to starting occasionally have to sit the bench. On top of that, when it comes to summer baseball, the best way to handle players is to take a more laid back approach. Capuano has continually praised the team for their preparedness and approach this season, but it’s not every day you get a chance to ask a player how he likes the coach.

“I love him as a coach, he’s a great guy,” Markol said. “We can joke around with him as much as he jokes around with us. He’s definitely more relaxed than most coaches I’ve played for.”

We don’t yet know how this is all going to end. If the team is able to navigate its way through the Final eight teams in the double-elimination State Tournament, it would move on to the Northeast Regionals in Middletown, Conn. — or it could be over in a matter of days.

“It’s been really cool,” Markol concluded. “We have a lot of guys that care. We’ve formed a bond with each other, and it’s still growing. I never thought before the season that we would be in the State Tournament and would have won a game in it. This team has brought about a lot of friendships. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com

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