Rodney Frazee instructed his players to implement a defense against a bunt and then observed.
The Farmington manager’s team was locked in a tight Fayette American Legion baseball playoff game last Wednesday against Smithfield-Fairchance and every play seemed important.
As the Farmington players rotated for the anticipated bunt with a runner on first, Smithfield-Fairchance batter Noah Mildren switched up and smacked a single through a vacated spot on the right side of the infield.
Some managers might have reacted angrily, some might have shaken their head in disgust and thrown their hands up the air.
Frazee did something unexpected.
“That was a good play,” he said to Mildren, nodding in the player’s direction. “You got me, you beat me. That was a good play by you. That was a good job.”
The runner acknowledged the compliment and the game continued. Farmington went on to win, 3-2, in a classic, well-played 10-inning battle to advance.
Farmington would fall in another tight ballgame on Saturday, 2-1 to Belle Vernon, but Frazee’s touch of good sportsmanship was not forgotten.
Of course, wins and losses are important, but Frazee sees his role as an American Legion baseball manager as more than that.
“I hope that’s how I am most of the time,” Frazee said. “That’s how it should be, especially at this level with Legion ball. We’re out to win and I’m sure they (Belle Vernon and manager Tom Hartman) were out to win, but at the end of the day, these kids, if they make great plays, they need to be made aware of it and put on that little bit of a pedestal, because they’re all trying to be something better.
“To that point, it’s not easy, It’s not easy at this level, it’s not easy at the next level. I think anytime anyone — an adult, a parent, another player — can lift up another kid who’s playing his heart out or making the right move or making the right play, that means a lot. That’s how it should be.”
American Legion baseball is a wooden bat league mostly made up of players who enjoy the game, but even then rosters tend to dwindle for a variety of reasons as the season goes on. Farmington is an exception, though. While some teams were struggling to put nine players on the field, Frazee’s dedicated squad had four subs for Saturday’s final game.
Even when the team had only 10 players on Wednesday, Farmington’s Wyatt Rishel showed his dedication and mettle by playing the entire game despite being hampered by a recurring leg injury that left him with a noticeable limp.
“As coaches, we’re very proud of the boys,” Frazee said. “They put their heart into it. It does make for a long season. All these boys come off high school ball and there’s no break, they roll right into the Senior Legion baseball.
“Specifically, these playoffs, it’s pretty much every day. This year was a little bit different, we had a few weather breaks, but that from a mental aspect takes a toll on the kids, too. They get hyped up to play the next day and find out the game’s pushed to maybe a day or two later.”
Sometimes, due mainly to a host of rainouts and sometimes to summer work schedules, games are postponed or rescheduled at a moment’s notice which requires players and their families to rework their plans as well.
“We weren’t supposed to play tonight,” Frazee said after the game against Belle Vernon. “We were scheduled to play Sunday. Hat’s off to those boys because of the love of the game and because of their desire to be a team member, they’re doing whatever it takes to make it happen.
“From a coaching aspect, we’re so proud of these boys. They do work hard. They want to win they have great will power. Kudos to Belle Vernon, they wanted it, too.”
Frazee had a long talk with his team after the season-ending Belle Vernon loss.
“We were just saying they did a great job. We were kind of talking it takes typically more than one run to win a ballgame. We’ve struggled this season putting together runs which really puts a strain on your pitching. We were pointing what needs to be done to improve.”
Frazee’s hope is he has steered his players in the right direction and that they continue on that path.
“These boys for some of them the next move is for college, for some of them it’s fall ball for high school,” Frazee said. “Our goal is to keep them working because now it’s on them. When they’re here, we’re playing, we’re practicing, they’re getting experience. But when it’s over, now it’s back on themselves. Our focus is to kind of preach to them that they need to work, lift, weight-training, (batting) cage, if you’ve got a buddy, infield-outfield stuff.”
Maybe the players can also take away what good sportsmanship looks like as well, which is an example their manager has helped set.