It's Wednesday night at the Fallston Recreation Complex and the duelon the baseball diamond is a smoker. The 15-16 Fallston Cubs haven'tbeaten the 15-17 Forest Hill team in three attempts this season. Butthis night things are looking up for the Cubs. The score is deadlocked, 4-4, in the final inning.
Forest Hill's Joe Reinhardt steps upto the plate to start the inning and clubs a single. Shawn Wheat follows with a grounder through the hole at second base, but the ball takes a funny bounce on the lip of the outfield grass and deflects to center field.
Reinhard is charging for third, but alert Fallston right-fielder David Simon scoops the ball bare-handed and hurls it in time to gun down the sliding Reinhard. Third baseman Brad Hallock makes the tag and immediately hurls to first, catching Wheat off guard. He is tagged out.
Just that quickly, Forest Hill's threat has gone puff. Fallston pitcher Paul Barabasz quickly ices the inning, striking out the next batter for the last out.
From there, the Cubs use the momentum to nail a run and win the game, 5-4.
This type of heads-up play has carried the Fallston Cubs to a 5-1 record in their first season in a different league, the competitive Metro League, which plays every Friday night. The Cubs fine-tune their skills in the Monday/Wednesday Harford County League.
The Metro League is designed to give the best players in the area a chance to compete against one another. Baltimore Orioles' players Cal Ripken and his brother, Billy, played in this league.
The Cubs' 10-game Metro League schedule pits them against highly regarded teams including the Columbia Reds, the Dayton Raiders (located near Columbia), the Eastern Storm (Essex-based) and the Harford Sox, based in Harford County.
Just over halfway through the season, Fallston and the Sox hold first and second place, respectively.
At first, Cubs coach Rick Sapp and his assistants, Jim Bennerand Mike Hallock, didn't know if the players would be able to hold their own in the league.
They could have just stayed in Harford County and played three times a week in 15-16 action and all games wouldhave qualified for postseason play. Or they could have played all their games in the Metro League.
"The three coaches got together andsaid, let's test our skills in this Metro League . . . if we find out we can't compete, we're only getting our brains beat out once a week instead of four," said Sapp.
So the team plays Metro League on Fridays, 15-17 Harford County League on Monday and Wednesdays, and 15-17 Harford County League on Saturdays. Only Friday and Saturday league games count toward postseason play through the American Amateur Baseball Congress (A.A.B.C.). The team is 4-0 in Saturday league action.
The young team is comprised of all 15-year-olds, with the exception of Jamie Coons, Hallock and Simon, who are 16. Most are from Fallston, while Barabasz is from Calvert Hall, Coons from Edgewood and Brian Cornell from Bel Air.
The Cubs began the season with a 13-5 loss to rival Harford Sox.
"We fell apart in pitching," said Sapp. "The boys were nervous but held their own. At that point, I knew we could play ball."
The team has since gone undefeated, nailing victories against Lansdowne (3-2), Dayton (4-3), Eastern (8-6) and Columbia (5-2). Last Friday, June 14, the Cubs defeated the Harford Sox, 5-0, to take sole possession of first place in the league.
That 5-1 record is much better than Sapp expected the team to
have at this point.
After Wednesday's victory over Forest Hill, Cubs catcher Tim Deyesu and relief pitcher Barabasz said all the players look forward to the Friday night games and have learned to stick together and get psyched up for the tougher teams.
Said Barabasz: "We had no idea what to expect, now that we've seen them (opponents), we think we can beat them."
"And this is supposed to be our off season," added Deyesu. The 15-year-old players still have another year left in the 15-16league.
Sapp has been coaching most of the Cubs since they were in 9-10. Assistants Benner and Hallock, who have over 20 years coaching experience between them, say the players are highly motivated.
"The kids who are serious about their baseball are on this
team," said Sapp. "There isn't a weak spot in the lineup."
In 1988, Sapp took the 11-12 Fallston team to the A.A.B.C. World Series in Atlanta, Ga., and placed fifth in the nation, losing to eventual-champion Puerto Rico.
In 1986, the 9-10 squad advanced to the North Atlantic Regionals in Waterbury, Conn.
Similar chances in the limelight awaitthis 15-16 team if they can stay on top of the Metro League and the Saturday Harford County League.
But that is not the only goal Sappand the other coaches hold for the players on this team.
"One of these kids just might make it . . . to the major leagues," said Sapp.
"We can give him a foundation, give him a place to flex his muscles and hone his skills so he's ready for the next step."