March 22, 2006 - The logo on the helmet says New York Yankees but one look at the product on the field at Arthur Pack Park suggests something more like the Bad News Bears than the Bronx Bombers.
Baseball is back at Immaculate Heart High School after nearly a decade-long hiatus from the Class 1A school. With only a dozen players, no home field and makeshift equipment, the Knights aren't quite ready yet to challenge the neighboring big name programs, but hope and hardball has returned to Immaculate Heart where this season will be taken one base at a time.
"I think we knew it was going to be a building program," said head coach Barry Collins, whose squad features a slew of players who have never played the sport before. "We're just trying to get some fundamentals into these kids and have fun. We're not going to overpower anybody."
On March 17, the Knights took the field at Arthur Pack Park for their first pseudo-home game of the season. The Knights will use Arthur Pack for games and James Kreigh Park for practice because there is no field on the Immaculate Heart campus.
In the home opener against Elfrida Valley Union High School, the Knights yielded ground balls through legs, passed balls, a bunt that resulted in a three base error, a picked-off runner that safely reached the next base and an inside-the-park-homerun that was called out only because the runner didn't slide into home. And that was just the first half-inning - 17 batters led to 14 runs crossing the plate before Immaculate Heart even put a batter in the box.
The Knights (0-2) were able to settle down, but eventually lost 22-1 to the Blue Devils in a mercy-ruled four innings. But all was not lost for the Immaculate Heart Nine who showed glimpses of life.
"Both times the first inning killed them," said assistant coach Gene Carlson about the team's first loss to Ajo High School, also by mercy rule.
Among the bright spots for the Knights was Carlson's son Nick who went 2 for 3 with two singles and a stolen base, an RBI double by Miguel Salmon and strikeout from pitcher Corbin Collins to get out of a bases loaded jam.
The creation of the baseball program began in September when Collins' son, Corbin, began talking up the possibilities of starting up a team with the 25 boys that attend the high school. After the dust settled on the basketball season, what Corbin got was 11 boys and a girl to turn out for the first day of practice.
"I was actually surprised when a lot of people signed up," said Corbin.
Technically speaking, the Knights are a junior varsity team but will play Class 1A teams such as Ajo, Green Fields and St. Gregory. No one is going to go easy on the Knights simply because they are essentially a first year team.
"There's no holds barred, we're playing baseball," said coach Collins. "They are going to learn."
Some players are just now learning how to throw and hit. What this team lacks in talent, however, is made up for in heart. Because more than half of the team either hasn't played in more than five years, if at all, Collins' strategy this season will be simple: lots of bunts to utilize team speed.
"I've never played before," said senior Matthew Verry, 18. "Some of the kids on the team haven't played since they were 7. It's going to be a challenge. It's my senior year so I thought I'd try everything before I get out of school."
Verry is one of two seniors on the team and will start in centerfield for the Knights. Working in Immaculate Heart's favor is its youth. This year's team features three juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen. Now that they have a team, excitement is spreading to the school's younger grades as well, said Carlson.
Among the young players already on the high school team is Heather Rivas, 16. Because Immaculate Heart has a softball team - one that features up to 20 players - the junior isn't allowed to play in games. The Knights can circumvent that rule if the opposing team grants them permission to play a girl. So far, Rivas has played in both of the team's games, starting at second base.
"Most of the guys have been great," said Rivas. "There's a few that don't want me on the team. I just want to improve and make the team proud that they have a girl."
To allow for both boys and girls to play, Immaculate Heart had to scramble to find equipment. Several parents donated balls and catcher's gear and Baum's Sporting Goods was generous to supply uniforms, even if some of those helmets had the Yankee logo on it.
The addition of the baseball team is another step toward revitalizing athletics at Immaculate Heart. For the first time in the school's history, Immaculate Heart offered a golf team this spring. Six kids will play on the golf team's inaugural squad coached by Howard Lundholm.
As the programs begin to find their legs, construction has resumed on the school's long anticipated gymnasium. A finish date isn't formal, but school officials are hopeful it can be completed by August. A new gym would allow the school to generate added revenue for athletics by providing a venue for the Class 1A to host major conference tournaments.
With roughly 45 acres of land on the Immaculate Heart campus, perhaps one day the baseball team too will have a place to call home. Until then, the Knights will be searching for home or at least first base.