BRANDON — It’s much more than a baseball team. It’s BaseBros sticking together like glue, so much so that it’s going to be really hard to say goodbye.
“I’m going to cry,” said Marcus McCullough without hesitation. “Especially with 15 days left in high school and playing sports together since T-Ball. I’m not going to college, but most of these guys are. Not being able to see them every day is really going to hurt.”
McCullough is one of seven Otter Valley seniors who form the heart of what has so far been an undefeated season. The Otters are 11-0 and apparently chugging toward the top seed in the Division II baseball tournament that begins in two weeks.
But that means the end of one chapter for a group that has been spending time together about as long as any of them can remember. McCullough, Jack Adams, Nate Hudson, Reilly Shannon, Josh Beayon, Patrick McKeighan and Kollin Bissette are all Otters starters and bring a lot of happiness to loyal OV fans, but part of that will be heading out the door with caps and gowns next month.
Relationships with baseball as a catalyst hardly end on the field.
“At a young age, we all had that feeling that we love this game,” said Beayon who, like the rest, lives in nearby Pittsford. “It’s kind of something we all had in common as a group, in Little League and 5th and 6th grade. We were competitive then, which kind of helps now because we’ve been together so long we know how each other plays. If somebody has a bad day we’re here to pick each other up.”
One of those bad days was marked by the end of last season in a playoff loss; Bissette accepted the blame after making a key error and took it hard.
That night, his six BaseBros were at his door.
“We’re a team. We win and lose together,” said Hudson.
“I kind of expected it but it was also kind of a surprise,” Bissette said. “I knew they would support me but I had it in my head that I’m the reason that cost the ... whole season, but I knew the guys would come pick me up. They’re a bunch of great guys and I couldn’t live without them.”
“It’s not that we’re teammates; we’re like brothers almost,” said Hudson.
Otters coach Mike Howe saw the same kind of relationships when he was playing high school ball at Bellows Falls.
“We had two guys who were (future) Division I players at UVM on our team and we all hung out outside of practice,” Howe said. “It’s the same thing they do; they are always together. They create this energy off the field and they just want to be with each other. They get on each other sometimes if somebody screws up and they fix it because this is the culture they’ve created.”
“After T-Ball, we all split off to different teams,” said McKeighan. “We’d always look forward to that one game a year when we’d all play each other. I think that’s where we got so competitive. And when we came (to high school) we all connected.”
Howe, who had six sophomores starting on his 2017 title team, was asked what it’s like to coach a group that has been together this long.
“They know how we do things. What they do that’s really cool is when I come out and say what we’re going to do today, it just happens. We spend more time on higher-level execution instead of fundamentals,” Howe said.
Howe said the OV culture is not about winning.
“They show up every single day to work hard,” he said. “It’s a positive attitude and an energy. They have fun with the game and they challenge each other every day. It’s pretty unique and it’s pretty special. If I say something, they fix it.”
The Otters bear a strong resemblance to former coach Tim Mitchell’s 2013 title team that was very fundamentally sound and did not beat itself. The current edition limits or minimizes mistakes, is patient at the plate, gets timely hitting and plays solid defense behind good pitching.
“They form a little bit of a nucleus and that’s why we’ve been so successful the past few years,” Howe said. “It will be tough to see them go.”
Soon they will have larger roles in a world where plenty needs fixing and their generation will be charged with tough choices and actions.
The teammates were asked what they would change if they could flip a switch and make things right. Removing plastics from the oceans, combating drug use, nicotine and E-cigarettes, nurturing face-to-face relationships in a time of overwhelming social media, human trafficking, the urgent need for clean water in underdeveloped nations, and infant death due to neglect or misinformation all made the list.
Those issues will be waiting for them and the rest of our youth. Until then, there’s this baseball season, the summer sun and American Legion baseball peaking over the horizon.
Then the group will be splintered. But never forgotten.
“Nate always says when we’re hanging out together: ‘Guys, we’re making memories,’” McCullough said. “That’s the best part about it.”