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Hitting the sweet spot: After a bumpy beginning, local baseball begins to hit its stride

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

The Astro's Feldmann

Connor Feldmann was happy when he could get back on the baseball field this summer. The 12-year-old has been playing ball since he was four years old. He now plays first base for the Astros team from the Peninsula Athletic League in Annapolis. Like most young baseball players in the area this summer, his competitive play was impacted by the coronavirus emergency.

It was impacted, but not eliminated.

When Connor hit a double to left center not so long ago his teammates cheered and shared in his success. Baseball is baseball, no matter the season.

“We started in late June and it goes to the end of August,” he said. “It feels very good because I can play, and be with my friends.”

The Astros have been doing quite well this season Connor said, in part because traveling has been limited. The teams they are playing are mostly younger, and less experienced.

But playing baseball should always be more about the love of the game, than the focus on competition, said one local high school and travel team coach.

“Young guys, even at 12 years old, should just be playing baseball, having fun, and they should play catch with their friends with their parents with their siblings,” said Old Mill High School Baseball Coach Charlie Chaffin. “And that's something that's overlooked.

Coach Chaffin

" I mean, these kids, even at 12 years old, they're chasing velocity and pitching--how hard can they throw. Just learn to play catch, you know? Learn to love baseball. That's one of the first things I noticed when these guys transition to high school. I can almost line them up and tell you from within a couple of days which kids love baseball and which don’t. You're not gonna have a good experience in high school baseball, or any high school sport, if you don't love what you're doing.”

Connor has a few years to go to reach high school ball. He said he enjoys hitting the best, but he’s also taken some time at the pitching mound.

The young athlete said he could play baseball all day. And he enjoys getting some time away from his twin sister, Grace. But mom, Christine Feldmann, said Grace has started to go watch the games too.

Some parts of the season have been curtailed for the children. There haven’t been any after-game get-togethers for a bite to eat. And the leagues annual trip to Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame has been canceled, which was a disappointment for Connor.

Chaffin, also an assistant head coach for the Rawlings A’s travel team, said his younger teen-aged players seemed to be in a bit of shock when they first got on the diamond earlier in the season. All the upheaval from the national emergency had taken a toll.

“I really had to modify the way I coached in the summer, we had to really step back,” he said. “A lot of us came into the summer geared up to hit the summer running like we normally would. These guys (players) had missed so much in the spring that we, in a lot of ways, in the summer have taken for granted.”

Chaffin said the time lost particularly hit high school freshman and sophomore athletes hard. The young players coming into high school baseball hadn’t learned to cope with pressure from expectations that are much higher than they've ever dealt with before, he said. They also learn nuances of the game early in high school that they haven't been exposed to before.

But as the summer season has gone on the athletes have gotten better and better, he said.The A’s will soon be playing their last two games in Pennsylvania. Then an informal fall season will start in high school, which some coaches think might last into the beginning of November.

Chaffin is not as concerned to extend the season as he is to encourage his players to work on their strength training, which he believes is one of their current biggest challenges. His focus as a coach is more on the player than on the game.

The unique season this summer gave him more time to reflect on the role of a coach in a player’s life.

“I've always been the coach that felt that the most important thing were the relationships I formed with individual players,” he said. “That's what's most important to them. That's most important to the team. And the conclusion I drew is that that's twice as important now.”

He said he’s struggling to find ways to bolster those relationships while being socially distanced. He recognized that other professionals who are working with kids are facing the same challenges.

“They (players) can't get a three page email from me, and I can't expect them to read it and understand,” Chaffin said. “But we're going to ask you if kids can miss chunks of time and experiences from sports or drama or music or academics. So how are we going to make up for that as coaches and teachers? I'm trying to figure out how to effectively communicate with the players, and actually with the parents as well.”

The coach didn’t look at that struggle and challenge as all-bad though.

“In a way that has kind of been a nice challenge,” he said. “It's been something different and a different way to think about things. I think that's never a bad thing.”

As for Connor, he was happy just to be seeing his friends and playing ball. Seeing his friends together has been a rarity these days.

“I feel its good we’ve been able to play, because we hadn’t been able to,” he said. “It feels good.

Although it has traditionally been less significant to the sport, the prognosis for the fall baseball season is looking more positive than those earlier in the year. Coach Chaffin sees some degree of normalcy returning with the changing of seasons.

“It really has gotten back now to where it might have been at the beginning of the summer in a normal year,” he said. “I think a lot of all of us have calmed down. We've all accommodated this pretty well. And so I think the fall season is gonna have a very normal feel to it.”