As the coach of the American Legion Columbia Post 300 baseball team, Tom Nanni often has to ask a lot of his players.
After the team is selected in the late fall, players practice through the winter, and then at the conclusion of the high school season, they move straight into the grueling summer season, which includes games or practice on an almost-daily basis.
"We give them three or four days off here or there just to recharge their batteries, but for the most part they're playing every day and they do it because they love to play," Nanni said.
And now, despite a third-place finish at the recent American Legion Maryland state tournament, the Patriots will play on.
Because Sandy Spring, the Maryland champion, and Salisbury, the runner-up, are unable to field a team to compete in this weekend's Mid-Atlantic regional tournament in West Lawn, Pa., Columbia Post 300 got the call, and the team answered.
"I was shocked because I didn't think we had a chance since we finished third," said centerfielder Erik Sackandy, a 2011 Centennial High graduate. "But everyone on this team just loves baseball so much."
Sackandy is one of five players — along with recent Centennial grad Garrett Kurtz, recent Marriotts Ridge grad Brandon Kratochwill, and 2011 Marriotts Ridge graduates Brett Kohler and Patrick Watson — who were members of the inaugural Post 300 team back in 2010.
That team won the Northern Central District title but lost a play-in game to make it to the state tournament.
This season has been the best in the team's three-year history. The Patriots are 27-7-1 heading into the regional tournament, won the 22nd annual Hillbilly Hardball Classic in West Virginia in mid-June and qualified for the state tournament for the first time.
At that tournament, played from Aug. 2 through Aug. 4 at McCurdy Field in Frederick, games were extended from seven innings to nine innings, posing an additional challenge for coaches and players.
"That probably was the biggest adjustment we had to make," Nanni said. "I was very proud of the kids for keeping the energy up."
To keep his players fresh and limit fatigue, Nanni devised a strategy of pitching by committee, using a trio of pitchers for each game.
But in a semifinal game against eventual champion Sandy Spring on Aug. 3, the extra innings of play finally caught up to the Patriots, who gave up a 9-7 lead in the ninth inning, eliminating them from the tournament.
"It was very emotionally up and down, it was a roller-coaster experience," Nanni said.
On Aug. 6, the roller-coaster ride continued as Nanni got word from the Maryland American Legion that Sandy Spring would be unable to field a team for the regional tournament. Then, when Salisbury confirmed that it was also out late Monday evening, Post 300's season was on again.
And when Nanni put out the call to his players about the possibility of taking the field again, he found that two were out of state on vacation, and another was scheduled to have his wisdom teeth removed.
"Both (players on vacation) said they would fly back if need be, and the other said he would delay the dental surgery," Nanni said.
Sackandy, one of four players along with Kohler, Watson and Glenelg Country graduate Ben Koffel who will age out of the team's 19-and-under age requirement after this season, is especially excited to get to play a few more games before preparing for fall ball.
"I was just glad to be able to be a part of this team from the start," said Sackandy, who plays collegiately for Roanoke. "It's been a great run because when we first started no one thought we could do something like this."
While the team features players from all over Howard County, Centennial (7) and Marriotts Ridge (5) products make up a significant majority of the roster.
"We have great team chemistry," said Kurtz, an all-county first-team selection at first base who will play for Dickinson next spring. "During the high school season, it is a rivalry but when we get out on the field during the summer we're great teammates."
Another teammate that isn't out on the field, but is equally important to the team's success, is the American Legion Post 300 itself.
"They take a lot of pride in us and all they want is to see us have fun and have success," Kurtz said.
And in return, the players do things like march in the annual Fourth of July parade in Longfellow, and try to win a few baseball games.