The guys who play basketball for Xavier are among the upper crust of American athletes. They are transcendently talented when it comes to dribbling, passing, and shooting, they are freakishly fast and capable of covering almost mind-boggling expanses in just a couple of strides, they can jump higher off hardwood than most people can off a trampoline, and they can do all of that while maintaining spatial awareness to know where the other 12 people occupying the same 94 feet of space are at almost all times. They are also flat out terrible at softball.
A crowd of somewhere around 200 showed up at a scorching hot Hayden Field to watch what is becoming a summer tradition, the Xavier World Series. Coach Mack promised to rain softballs down on Victory Parkway, but it was Sean O’Mara who made the best contact in an error riddled game. Guest announcer Matt Stainbrook missed no opportunities to use Coach Mack’s tongue in cheek Twitter hubris against him, reminding the crowd after a JP Macura infield single that he was “safe on a weak throw from the shortstop.”
Speaking of JP, he was clearly the best player on his team, despite MVP awards being split between Kaiser Gates and Myles Davis. JP demonstrated the classic softball ability to shift his feet in the box as the pitch comes in and slammed a ball on one hop off the 355 foot deep wall in right center. JP also took it upon himself to move team captain Myles Davis to a place where his defensive inadequacies wouldn’t be so exposed and made a pretty impressive sliding play and throw from a knee once he was on the infield.
JP’s all around game and O’Mara’s ability to hit a softball off the wall in the deepest part of the park didn’t paper over the cracks of Xavier basketball’s softball issues. Should Coach Mack decide to take this team on a barnstorming tour instead of conducting summer practice, he’s got his work cut out for him. Basketball players play basketball year round now, and it shows. Trevon’s self-taught throwing style is...unorthodox, Edmond Sumner is so tall and so fast he can barely corner at the bases, and judging a fly ball is something that apparently doesn’t come naturally to four and five star recruits.
This game isn’t really about playing softball though, it’s more of a chance for the team to meet fans and have some fun. In both of those categories, they excel. The amount of clowning on anyone who messed up, or the genuine celebration that broke out when Sumner finally made contact and singled, indicated a team that was loose and having a good time. After Team Davis run when the winning run crossed, but didn’t touch, home plate, it was Mike Pegues leading the celebrations with players and fans along the backstop alike.
Along with the fun comes a chance for the players to meet young fans. I’ve mentioned before that Xavier players are more accessible than any of the nation’s other major programs, and they showed that again yesterday. After the game hardly any players failed to come stroll through the accumulated crowd of fans (mostly kids) to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Try walking up to a UK player after an event and you’ll hit a wall of security, if you want to hang out with the guys from Duke, you’ll need to call ahead. At Xavier there are no special dinners, no mentality of being so much better than the supporting fans that deigning to speak to them is a burden.
Want your kids to meet the guys they see on tv? Bring them down to Hayden Field and watch Ed high five his way along the backstop on his way to an at bat, see Kaiser Gates take time crouch down next to a young fan, put his arm around him, and make sure that he’s folded all of his frame down small enough to fit in the camera’s viewfinder, see the team’s leaders, JP, Myles, and Trevon, picking up kids, tousling hair, and sharing some laughs with youngsters still wondering how people from the television have ended up right in front of them. The guys do all of this with a smile and laugh as they exchange jokes with one another and high fives with kids barely old enough to walk.
And maybe you’d argue that is how it should be for college players. There’s truth to that. Most of these guys aren’t going on to fame and fortune and could be living the last step of an absolute dream. But with any group of college age young men confronted with being the face of a program that has existed far longer than they have, missteps can occur. There weren’t any of those on Wednesday at Hayden Field. Xavier’s men came out and genuinely interacted and enjoyed talking with the next generation of Musketeers fans. It’s days like those that make supporting and writing about this team an absolute joy.