Jaywalking: Catching cousins

Brody Markol and Morgan Ozdarski graduated from Turners Falls High School earlier this month.

The cousins have grown up together, spending a lot of time with each other, especially around their grandmother’s house, located across the street from Morgan’s.

When Brody was about 8, he put on the tools of ignorance during a Newt Guilbault League game and he liked it so much that he decided to make a career of it. A few years later, Ozdarski was playing for a team that needed a catcher, so she too put on the equipment. Her sister, Haley Ozdarski, was also a pitcher and needed someone to catch her, so her younger sister decided to stick with it.

“I taught her everything she knows,” Brody joked

Both have enjoyed productive high school catching careers the past few years, one on the baseball team, the other the softball team at Turners Falls. Brody has been the starting catcher on the baseball team since his freshman year, while Ozdarski began during her sophomore campaign. And just last weekend both of them competed in western Mass. championship games.

If this were a Hollywood script, both players would have won western Mass. titles as the other looked on, perhaps even shared congratulatory hugs at the end. But this isn’t Hollywood and, unfortunately, although Ozdarski was able to celebrate her second WMass softball title in three years after catching the first perfect game thrown in a WMass title game by a local pitcher, Markol and the rest of the Indians’ baseball team came up short, falling to Hopkins Academy, 5-2. Ozdarski and the Indians came up just shy in their quest to win a state crown on Saturday with a 8-3 loss to Greater New Bedford Voke.

While both players probably feel like there was more to be desired from this season, they both relished their opportunities.

“I think it’s crazy,” Brody said. “We both get to play in a championship game our senior year. What are the odds?”

Ozdarski said that despite having already won a western Mass. title, this season’s run was just as enjoyable. Part of that reason was because the team was so upset following last year’s 3-0 loss to Mt. Everett in the WMass title game, which ended a string of nine-straight WMass titles. Ozdarski also said that she fell in love with this year’s team.

“I definitely enjoyed this team,” she said. “We are all comfortable with each other.”

The experience this season was a bit different for Markol, who said he has been waiting since his freshman year for the opportunity to play in the WMass title game. The Indians lost 13 players from a year ago and, after a solid start, limped through the second half of the season, making the postseason due to the 70-percent rule. But Turners Falls caught fire in the tournament and won three games to advance to the finals.

“I did not know what to expect this year,” Markol said. “We had a roller-coaster season but we did not get down. These kids really stepped up for the seniors and it’s hard that it’s come to an end.”

Markol was fortunate that he played on the western Mass. championship football team as well as the western Mass. finalist baseball team. He will continue to play baseball next season at Plymouth State University, where he plans to major in criminal justice, although that could change. Ozdarski’s career has ended; she will attend UMass in the fall and study communications with a focus on broadcasting.

I had to ask both players why catcher?

“It’s fun to call a game,” Ozdarski said. “Giving signs and telling the team what to do. Throwing people out and picking people off feels so good.”

Markol agreed.

“You’re in control of the game,” he said. “You get to see everything in front of you and you get to call the shots.”

The thing that has always been most amazing to me is that catchers can remain in that uncomfortable squat. It seems like a death sentence on your ankles, knees and quadriceps.

“I don’t feel it,” Morgan said. “Back when I started catching, maybe I did a little bit, but I don’t really notice it anymore.”

And, because I never played baseball as a kid (as a farmboy growing up, summer baseball just wasn’t in the cards), I was also curious about how it feels to catch a pitcher that throws the ball hard. Both admitted that you can feel it when catching a hard thrower, but both said that you generally don’t notice it. The biggest concern is not catching the ball square in your palm, which can smart, and not taking balls awkwardly off fingers and thumbs. Ozdarski said she had to wear a thumb guard after catching former Indian pitcher Dakota Smith-Porter, who threw heat.

It is possible that you noticed the Deerfield Mickey Mantle team is named Deerfield TNT and you did not know what the TNT stood for. Is it some new blasting company? Maybe a company that makes fireworks or dynamite? Or, as one person suggested, maybe the parents of the players are old AC/DC fans. Nope. TNT actually stands for Ted and Norma’s Team — as in Ted and Norma Gewanter. The grandparents of Gewanter twins Seth and Kade (who both play for the team), have donated generously and anonymously in support of Frontier summer baseball for several years. The team decided it wanted to honor them this season.

Deerfield’s Robert Alber was on the field at Fenway Park Sunday during the Pan-Mass Challenge Day. Alber is among the cancer survivors who rode their bikes around the warning track in a pre-game ceremony that marked the 12th year that the Red Sox sponsored the PMC, which raises money for cancer research. Alber will join forces with 5,800 cyclists on Aug. 2 & 3 to ride up to 190 miles across the state in the 35th annual PMC. The goal this season is to raise $40 million.

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

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