In my nearly nine years of journalism, I’ve never had a more enjoyable time than I did covering American Legion baseball this summer.
You never learn as much about a team as you do by traveling with them.
That’s what happened this summer on various road trips with Hickory Post 48.
From Hendersonville to Shelby to Kings Mountain to Gastonia — each road trip had something new to offer.
I learned about the team’s rituals, including “The Rooster” performed by head coach Fore Rembert following many of Hickory’s victories.
Of the 32 games the team played this season, I was able to cover about 27 or so of them.
The only games I missed this season were due to scheduling conflicts, but I still was able to follow the boy’s progress through the “GameChanger” app on my iPhone and computer.
Baseball became therapy for me.
I will admit that the time period from the fall of 2012 until the spring of 2013 was by far the most difficult stretch of my 26-year life.
However, getting on the bus with the players and talking to the coaches in the dugout helped me deal with the stresses and difficulties of life.
There were a number of memorable moments for the team this season — from Kyle Kelly’s two home runs on the road against Kings Mountain to pitcher Colton Allison’s three-hit shutout against Gaston in the playoffs
I also had the pleasure of writing features on several of Post 48’s team members, including pitchers Greg Lucas and MacLindsay Mitchell, utility infielder/pitcher Colton Chapman, center fielder Phillip Carroll and even assistant coach and former Post 48 player Cam Beard.
I tried to make sure that each of the boys were in the newspaper at least one time this season. It’s hard “spreading the love” around, but I make a concerted effort to do so.
As the team got into the playoffs, each of the players adopted a new ritual — a “Bull” nickname.
I remember many of these nicknames, including Davis “Red Bull” Hanvey, Jordan “Bull Frog” Eckard, Tyler “Dinking Bull” Pait and Matt “Sitting Bull” Johnson.
I even was given the honorary and appropriate “Bull” nickname by the team of “Writing Bull.”
The nicknames were made mostly because of a song by Rembert’s son and team bat boy, Quinn, which was entitled “Bulls Like Dynamite.”
I’m not sure how the song originated, but the players listened to it a couple of times on the bus trips.
The song and late-season ritual just seemed to stick.
Before Post 48’s first playoff game against Kings Mountain, the team broke the huddle with a loud chant of “Nine Bulls, Like Dynamite!”
The No. 9 symbolized how many games it would take the team to get back to the American Legion state championship for the second time in three years.
Hickory easily swept Kings Mountain the first round of the playoffs, and nine “Bulls” became six by the end of the series.
Despite dropping a first game against the Gaston Braves in the second round of the playoffs, Hickory rallied with three-straight wins to make it back to the Area IV semifinals.
Suddenly, the team was three “Bulls” away from its goal with only Shelby Post 82 standing in its way.
Hickory dropped the first game at home to Shelby, but Post 48 quickly tied the series in game two.
Unfortunately, Hickory would only get as close as two “Bulls” to its goal. Shelby went on to win games three and four, clinching the series.
Post 48 finished its season with a 21-11 overall record. The team may not have went to the state championship at Fleming Stadium in Wilson, but it has a lot to be proud of.
After the Hickory’s game four loss on Sunday, I had all of its members sign a baseball. I wanted a keepsake from this summer so that I could look at that ball and remember all of the fun and amazing times from the summer of 2013.
The 2014 American Legion baseball season will start next June, but it will have a different flair.
Some of the names and numbers will change for Hickory Post 48, but the memories for me will remain from one incredibly fun American Legion season.