The seniors of spring sports: Baseball

This is the third in a series of stories highlighting the seniors who would have been playing their final sports seasons this spring.

When the Alaska School Activities Association announced on March 23 it was canceling all of the state’s spring sports, it was another line in the defense against the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, but a heavy blow to many high school seniors who will now be deprived of playing their final seasons.

In Homer, that means a handful of softball, soccer, baseball and track and field athletes are left to reflect on the years they’ve been able to spend on the field thus far. The three seniors on Homer’s baseball team — Colby Marion, Johnny Rummery and Mose Hayes — all put in extensive work in the off season along with their teammates in the hopes of making this season a fruitful one, according to head coach Rich Sonnen.

Hayes will continue his baseball career into college. According to the Alaska Baseball Report, Hayes has committed to play on the baseball team at Yuba College in Yuba City, California. He will play infield and right-hand pitcher for the team.

Sonnen said the team had been following the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, practices were just suspended.

“The feeling kind of across the board was just kind of disbelief,” he said of finding out the 2020 season was canceled.

Sonnen said he’s been coming back to the old saying about playing every game like it’s your last, because you never know when it might be.

“For those seniors … they never thought for a second that that last game they played last year would be their last one,” he said.

Sonnen said the canceled season was different in that, many athletes get to choose when to step back from the game — they get to leave on their own terms. To have an outside force decide for the seniors that their high school careers were over had to be hard, he said.

For Marion, that meant an end after playing baseball for about eight years. He’s played on the varsity team for about three, he said.

Marion has played other sports, like hockey when he was younger and basketball his first two years of high school, but neither of them measured up to America’s pastime.

“I’ve never felt a stronger connection between a team than when playing baseball,” he said.

The baseball team meshed together better than any other he’s played on, and it’s been more enjoyable, Marion said.

He, too, was both anticipating a spring sports cancellation and still shocked when it actually happened.

“It was like someone ripped something away from you,” he recalled.

Marion said the team had high hopes for this season, including making it to the state championship tournament if they could.

“I thought this was the year we’re going to qualify for state,” he said.

Sonnen, too, had been keeping an eye the state championship. The team ended the 2019 season in a strong position, he said, and for a while there was talk of splitting Alaska high school baseball into two divisions for large and small schools, which Sonnen said would have given Homer an even better chance. That ended up getting put off, but Sonnen said hopes were still high for a successful season this year.

“We had a lot of guys working hard all winter,” he said of the team. “… We finished last season at the regions tournament better than we all had expected, and we thought we were just going to be able to build on that and keep going.”

Sonnen said he’s enjoyed watching this year’s three seniors grow and develop as players. He also hopes they’ve grown as people, too.

“The biggest thing we always talk about is, it’s not just baseball, it’s life,” Sonnen said.

One example of a life lesson Sonnen sees the players develop over their years with him is communication. If they’re going to be late or miss a practice, Sonnen expects them to let him know, and that’s a habit that they’ll need after high school, he said.

Sonnen described Hayes as a “work horse.”

“He doesn’t say much,” he said. “He’s always focuses and he just works.”

Rummery, for better or worse, has dealt with unexpected injuries throughout his career, Sonnen said. And Marion has been good for team morale.

“He’s just a good character for the team,” Sonnen said. “He’s just a good guy to have there.”

Marion said he’ll miss his teammates, and the time they spent together in games, practice and on the road.

“All the away trips and the dugout chatter,” Marion said.

Of Sonnen, Marion said future players coming up to varsity will be lucky to have him.

“He’s a great coach, definitely one of the best coaches of any sport I’ve ever had,” he said.

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Johnny Rummery plays with the Homer High School baseball team in this undated photo. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Bishop)

Johnny Rummery plays with the Homer High School baseball team in this undated photo. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Bishop)