HAMPTON — There was no ticker tape parade, no Canyon of Heroes, no call from the President. But the 100-plus fans and handful of canines who greeted the Peninsula Pilots on Sunday night resonated deeply with the freshly minted Coastal Plain League champions.
Owner Henry Morgan fought back tears as he addressed the crowd gathered at War Memorial Stadium. Coach Hank Morgan, Henry's son, sipped champagne and hugged anyone within reach. Players posed with the Petitt Cup and said summer farewells before scattering back to their respective college programs.
Escorted by Hampton Police, the team bus arrived the day after the Pilots, in their fourth finals appearance, earned their first title by completing a two-game sweep of the defending champion Columbia Blowfish.
"This is our 14th year," Henry Morgan said, "and we felt a little unfulfilled a few of those years. There's a lot that goes into this, and a lot of it is contributed by the community: fans and sponsors. I'm happy for them. I really am.
"When I saw the police escort, I was like, what did we do? And to see all these people, wow! That's part of my emotion. I just feel like I share this bond over the dumb game of baseball with everybody out here."
That bond is strongest with his son. Hank Morgan was a scrawny, get-dirty, let's-play-two infielder, and he coaches as he played: hard-nosed and meticulously out of supreme respect for the game's code, written and otherwise.
The purist in Hank was evident during the weekend in Columbia.
After Peninsula's 5-4 Game 1 victory Thursday, the teams headed south for Game 2 and, if necessary Game 3. But rain washed out Friday and, with so many players due back at college Monday, threatened to end the series prematurely.
The last thing Hank wanted — NASCAR analogy alert — was to win the race under caution.
"I just wanted this to be settled on the field," he said.
How baseball-obsessed is Hank? His oldest child, daughter Callie, is named for Cal Ripken Jr., the Hall of Fame Iron Man from Morgan's beloved Baltimore Orioles.
Like Ripken, Morgan learned baseball — its fundamentals, strategies and history — from his dad, and the pair's annual aim is to offer fans affordable, entertaining baseball played "the right way."
"This (turnout) is awesome," said Hank, his postseason goatee vanished. "Their [the players'] faces lit up when the bus turned the corner. … Not to overstate what we've done. I'm just thrilled we got to go on that ride with this group of kids. They were unique guys."
They were guys of modest pedigree — only Georgia Tech pitcher Josh Heddinger hails from a national power. And they were, in large measure, guys with Hampton Roads roots.
In Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Blowfish, Old Dominion's Jordan Negrini, Peninsula's most productive hitter throughout the season, drove in the winning run with an eighth-inning sacrifice fly, and pitchers Brandon Vick and Aaron Myers, teammates at Longwood University, combined on a five-hitter.
Myers, a Denbigh High graduate, hurled three innings of hitless relief to earn the decision and continue a lights-out postseason. Using what Hank Morgan called a Trevor Hoffman-caliber change-up, Myers struck out 17 hitters in nine playoff innings while allowing one hit.
"It's amazing," Myers said of the championship. "Now we've set the standard. We know we can do it."
Vick, a Warwick High grad, started Saturday and labored through five innings, this three days after working three spotless innings in a semifinal conquest of nemesis Edenton.
"He pitched like an old man," Hank Morgan joked, "and kept us in it."
Vick was glad to do it, arm fatigue notwithstanding. Never mind that this was summer ball.
"I came here as a kid all the time to watch (the Pilots)," Vick said, "and last year got to play for the first time. … I'd do anything for this team, no matter what. There's no such thing as pain in the playoffs.
"It's summer league, everyone's ready to home, get back to school. Whoever wants it the most wins, and it was definitely us."
Such is the chemistry and loyalty the Morgans attempt to foster each season, and they earned it this year not only with the local players but also from the likes of Bradon Reitano (Mount Olive), Alex Close (Liberty) and Josh Silver (Lee University).
"Perfect end to the best summer of my life," pitcher Ryan Cook of Virginia Beach and the University of Richmond tweeted Saturday night.
In turn, the players earned championship rings and the Morgans' lasting gratitude.
"I'm so grateful," Henry said. "It's just like they say, you spend your whole life gripping a baseball, and then find out it's the other way around."
And might the Pilots unveil a championship banner at next season's home opener?
"I'm going to make sure of that," Hank said. "Waited too long not to hang one."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun