In my last column, which I used to give a personal account of the North Harford baseball team's heartbreaking, 15-inning loss to La Plata in the 3A state semifinals, I broke one of my rules, that being to never label an athlete as "the best I've seen."
The reason I avoid such proclamations is that I've spent a relatively short time covering and analyzing Harford County sports, four full high school years and three seasons worth of IronBirds, and I'd like to get at least twice that much under my belt before I start sounding pompous.
Anyway, last week, after seeing North Harford hurler Kevin Mooney make his final appearance of the 2011 season in the semifinal game, I said he was the best high school pitcher I had seen during my time at The Aegis, such was his dominance on the mound that evening, and throughout the 2011 campaign.
A few days later, I was on the phone with C. Milton Wright head coach Tony Blackburn, going over All-Harford baseball nominations, and he, in regard to my statement about Mooney, asked with mock exasperation, "what, did you forget about Brad Markey already?" I certainly haven't, and if you have here's a quick refresher: Last year during CMW's undefeated state title run, Markey went 8-0 with an 0.58 ERA, not allowing a single earned run between late April and the state final, in which he tossed a five-hitter against runner-up Huntingtown, and a few days before that he threw a five-inning no-hitter against Towson in the 3A North title game (one error prevented a perfect game in that one).
Mooney's 2011 season was similar. He went 7-1 with a 0.76 ERA, tossing a complete-game, five-hitter to earn his last win during a 5-1 North Harford defeat of CMW in the 3A North final, then coming back three days later with a heroic relief effort in the semifinal loss, striking out 13 and allowing two hits over 6-2/3 scoreless innings.
Though asked tongue-in-cheek, Blackburn's question made me think about what I'd written in the previous column, and why I'd broken my self-imposed rule. You see, journalism, like sports and politics, is very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately field, where last week's heroes get swept away pretty quickly if they don't manage to stay on the radar, or if they graduate and go off to a college that isn't within my coverage area, like Markey, who's playing at Division I Georgia Tech.
Naming someone "the best I've seen" is terribly tricky, because I have to deal with my own profession-induced shortsightedness, and it's an invitation for people to ask, "well, don't you remember so and so?" regardless of whether the athlete they're mentioning played 10 years before my time at this newspaper, or that the athlete isn't or wasn't as good as the one I've labeled. Predicting the outcome of games is one thing, because I can just say, "sorry, messed that one up," when I get it wrong, but slapping the "best" label on a particular player is another can of worms, one that once it's opened, I can't close with some self-deprecating remarks in my next column.
So, let's just say this: Markey was a great high school pitcher on a great team, who had a stupendous senior campaign, and is pitching for a Division I college baseball team. Mooney, who toward the end of the 2011 season looked less hittable than anyone I've seen, is a great pitcher who has his whole senior year to improve, and my guess is he'll be playing Division I baseball, if that's the path he chooses. If he does improve next season, I won't have much trouble hanging a "best I've seen" tag on him.
Speaking of having the entire senior year to improve, North Harford's baseball team only loses two players to graduation this year, Robert Campbell and Jake Sayler, so that means next season's team will have something like 15 seniors on it, all of whom were so close to a state final appearance they could taste it. You think they're going to come loaded for bear in 2012? I do.