Managing Great Expectations
A year ago today, March 25, 2017, Stuyvesant’s varsity baseball team traveled to Ft. Hamilton High School for its final pre-season scrimmage. It was an unremarkable affair, in which the Tigers prevailed over a lackluster Pegleg squad in the Saturday-morning chill. As the dispirited players gathered their equipment, nothing hinted at the heroics about to unfold.
Four days later, the team opened its season at home with a bang. Against Newtown, the Peglegs prevailed 9-3, behind strong pitching from Tobias Lange, timely hitting from Jack Archer, and sharp fielding from Max Onderdonk and others. Stuyvesant would not lose another game until April 21, racking up wins against Bayside, Norman Thomas, Newtown (again), Francis Lewis, and the High School for Construction Arts in the process.
Thus began one of the most remarkable sports seasons in the school’s modern history.
“Last year’s team was special,” says coach John Carlesi, reflecting on a campaign that saw the Peglegs go 12-5 in New York City’s toughest athletic division. “For the first time ever, Stuyvesant was ranked in the top ten in the city,” he says. “It meant a lot to the team and to the school.” The banner atop the FSB homepage captures one of the season’s signature moments, a 1-0 walk-off triumph over Bryant in the final game of the season.
As the 2018 campaign opens, Carlesi and Assistant Coach Matt Hahn find themselves invoking the glory of 2017 to motivate a young and relatively inexperienced team, while tempering expectations with a measure of realism.
“It’s a brand new year,” Carlesi says. “We can’t expect to be that good again.”
Losing eleven seniors in a single off-season means many new faces in the dugout. “Three-quarters of the infield has never started a varsity league game,” Carlesi observes. “We need a lot of players to step up.”
Joining last year’s stalwarts—seniors Onderdonk and Michael Gillow, and juniors Jared Asch, Jeremy Rubin, and Malcolm Hubbell—in the probable starting lineup, rotation, and bullpen are seniors Ronin Berzins, Simon Carmody, Perry Wang, Samuel Merrick, and Khyber Sen (who was injured in 2017), juniors Matthew Deutsch and Cooper Nissenbaum, and sophomore Owen Potter.
Anchoring a deep bench are seniors Sam Merrick, Justin Heinze, and Sam Stamler, juniors Daniel Kim and Henry Carver, and sophomore Franklin Liou.
“With so many people in new positions,” Carlesi says, “I’m looking for the player who can hit. If you hit, we will find a spot for you on the field.”
Asked about the team’s relative strengths, Carlesi says, “From what I’ve seen so far, the pitching is very good. I think it’ll hold up in league play.”
The problem for Stuyvesant, as it is for so many teams at this level, is hitting. “We need that person who can be consistent in getting the big hit,” Carlesi remarks. But to be successful, the entire team will have to contribute. “If we can hit .250 on a consistent basis, we will win most of our games,” he says. “Last year, we hit .268 in league play. That’s very good.”
Recent pre-season victories over Abraham Lincoln and Berkeley Carroll offer glimmers of hope for the regular season. “We were getting the head of the bat on the ball,” says Carlesi. “We’re not striking out as much. We’re holding our own. Hopefully, that’s a good sign of what the season will bring.”
But the coach is well aware that pre-season play offers few portents of the year to come.
That, after all, was the lesson of the magical season of ’17.