The varsity baseball team is nearing the end of the season, but for the eight senior Hawks, it’s an especially bittersweet time. Seniors Matthew Kearney, Kevin McDougal, Jack Dickson, Will Muir, Connor Swenberg, Nick Kennison, Sam Spiegelman, and Ryan Leake have been together a since the beginning of high school, and for some even since Little League. Forming a spontaneous brotherhood as freshman, their high school baseball experience included overcoming a controversial coaching change, forming their own club team in the offseason, and making a final playoff push. Now in the homestretch, they reflect on the past four years.
“It’s become a family to me,” catcher Will Muir said. “I feel like I have a commitment to them to go and try and play the best that I can, and it’s what motivates me to participate in the program and continue to participate in the program.”
Other players agreed with Muir that the tight knit bond makes playing the game so much more fun. “You’re working hard for everyone else, because they deserve it,” third baseman Jack Dickson said. “When you are so close with your teammates, you know that no matter what you’re still going to have their backs, on or off the field.”
Second baseman, and Tam News reporter Ryan Leake agreed. “We have a great foundation, and, as seniors, we have been through it all together,” Leake said. “It’s helpful to have such good people by your side.”
Shortly before their sophomore season, a shock came when former coach Scott Osder was let go. His coaching style created a rift between players who supported him and those who didn’t. “Baseball wasn’t fun,” outfielder Kevin McDougal said. “It was a commitment and something you had to do. You weren’t coming to practice because you wanted to. It was because you had to.”
Not knowing who their next coach would be, and wanting to play in the off-season, the players created their own new club team, run by the players themselves, complete with pink camouflage uniforms. They called themselves the Newt Nine.
The Newt Nine began with pitcher Sam Spiegelman. Following the conclusion of the sophomore season, he decided that the best way to boost team morale and rekindle their love of baseball was to create a new team. The players coached themselves. They were registered for tournaments and together they went to games, made their own lineups, and played baseball without a hierarchy.
“We were our own coaches,” middle infielder Conner Swenberg said. “We were there to purely have fun with the game.”
The Newt Nine took the liberty of constructing their own uniforms, and had quite a unique look, with pink camouflage jerseys and insane warm-up drills.
“Something we did every game was uncoordinated stretches,” Swenberg said. “Other teams would do toe-touches, and we would be doing whatever we wanted. The best thing about Newt Nine was there was no pressure. We had as much fun as we could playing baseball, and we were there for the pure enjoyment of each other’s company.”
Coming into their junior year, the players were ready to embrace their new head coach, social studies teacher Nathan Bernstein. Bernstein taught the boys both winning plays in baseball, and life lessons to take beyond high school.
“He works to help us become genuinely good people, and makes it so that when we graduate, we can continue to make a positive impact,” Dickson said.
Bernstein became a highly respected role model, and for players like Leake, a mentor. “He always comes out and supports us,” Leake says. “I just had a whole new view of baseball. I used to think of it as a chore, and now I think of it as a game. He drives me to succeed.”
After graduation, all eight seniors hope to keep playing baseball in college. Kennison will pitch at Lewis and Clark next year and the rest plan to join club teams while pursuing their academic interests.
As they near their final few games, including MCAL and NCS playoffs, Spiegelman expressed his gratitude for the memorable years alongside his teammates saying “I appreciate you sticking with me, and I’m going to miss you.”