Balls and bats sting the hands a little more, the base paths are brutal and arms take longer to warm up.

But it’s still baseball. And for a handful of high school athletes, Westbrook’s fall team has been a way to keep playing the game they love.

Sunday, after three consecutive wet, windy, cold weekends of cancellation, the team, sponsored by Rookies Restaurant in Westbrook, managed to get in its final double header of the season.

In an uncharacteristically sunny and windy day in Cumberland, unbeaten Greely took a pair of 7-inning games from Westbrook, which finished the season 2-6.

But winning and losing in this league is far from the point.

This is a time serious players can hone skills and learn new positions. And though off-season obstacles were numerous for these avid baseball addicts, they kept showing up, throwing, hitting and fielding as long as the weather allowed.

In past seasons, the team, managed by John Anthony, has played in an Augusta League. But with fields there undergoing renovation, Anthony took his team to Portland’s Frozen Ropes League, which fielded six teams this year.

“These kids love the chance to play out here,” said Anthony, who has managed or helped manage teams for the past six fall seasons. “But there is no pressure here, and we stress that. We don’t stress wins and losses at all. And if someone wants to try a new position, they tell us and we try to accommodate them.”

Rules are loosened in the fall league, allowing the entire roster to stay in the batting lineup.

But even though winning is secondary, last year’s senior-dominated team won all eight of its games. Eleven of those players went on to play for Westbrook’s varsity high school team, which played its way into the Class A state championship game last spring.

“I think it pays off a lot,” said pitcher Joe Cook, with Shane Kelly the only two returning players from last year.

The crafty lefty, and team MVP this season, got in some quality innings Sunday despite the loss, striking out five batters in three innings, working on his effective off-speed pitch.

“But you really have to enjoy the sport to do this, because it gets really cold out here,” Cook said.

Cook is a total baseball guy, sports-wise, and is keenly focused on improving himself for Westbrook’s high school season next spring.

But others on the team juggled even tougher schedules to play two sports.

Thornton Academy’s catcher Travis Adams is the only non-Westbrook player on this fall’s team and he also was a defensive back on Thornton’s high school varsity football team.

“It kept me busy,” said Adams in between games Sunday. “And it’s difficult. But this is a great way to stay sharp for baseball.”

Adams, who was the team’s leading hitter (.467) and winner of the Players’ Player Award Sunday, doesn’t hide that baseball is his favorite sport and plans to find a college to play for next spring.

Westbrook’s Eric Anderson, a giant first baseman and winner of the Coach’s Award this fall, also juggled football and baseball this season and admits it wasn’t always easy.

“I never had any time off,” he said. “But this is fun.”

The team played all its games on Sundays and the only practice time other than game days was scheduled for an hour on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. at Frozen Ropes baseball facility, where players could take batting practice and throw.

Adams and Anderson both said they would come to those baseball practices after football practice and that their high school coaches were fine with that.

Anthony stressed that he was not trying to compete with high school sports.

“We try to talk with high school coaches and notify them their players are with us, and more or less try to get their approval,” said Anthony. “And if a player is injured in a high school game, we don’t play them.”

But it’s not just high school coaches and players that have to be in sync to make fall baseball work.

Anthony tried working with city officials to secure fields for home games for his team last season but was unsuccessful. Westbrook’s varsity field was being used for soccer and the junior varsity field was taken by Tuffy football. So all of the team’s games last season were played in Augusta. This year again all the Westbrook games were played away, though all were a little closer, around the Portland area.

But still that makes every game a daunting road trip. It only proved further that if someone wants to play baseball, they are going to play no matter what, if at all possible.

Anthony has flanked himself with quality coaches who are as passionate about the sport as the kids. Assistant Mike Cook has been a knowledgeable coach in town for years, and long-time baseball coach (and Little League legend) Jim Burrill brings his brand of enthusiasm and wisdom to the team.

In a season-ending meeting on the field Sunday, the coaches stressed the importance of off-season workouts and voiced hopes that the players will remember the little things they learned during the fall.

“Baseball is still baseball,” Burrill told the players, “no matter when you play it.”

In Sunday’s action, Rookies lost 10-0 and 12-3 to the strong Greely team, which finished the fall at 8-0-1.

Adams and Christian Hamilton picked up hits in the first game for Westbrook and Adams and Alex Welch knocked in runs in the second game.

While starter Cook was sharp on the mound for three innings in the second game, Matt Lampron (1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief) and Anderson (one unearned run in the final three innings) were effective pitchers in game one.


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