The pitch bores in low and skitters under Ian Anderson's mitt. As he chugs to retrieve the baseball, another enemy runner dashes across home plate, putting the Carver Bears more hopelessly behind.
Shoulders slump around this West Baltimore diamond, lumpy and pocked with dandelions after weeks of no mowing. Harvey White, pitching his first game ever for Carver, can't find his control. And Anderson, filling in for a suspended teammate, looks like the novice he is behind the plate.
But from the bench comes an animated voice, cutting through the dejection: "Good job, Ian! Good job back there No. 5!"
The voice emanates from a guy pacing vigorously in Carver blue spikes with red swooshes. His name is Michael Rosenband and no matter what happens on the field, his tone never falters. Even after the sloppiest play, he never barks at the players. After every half inning, he runs out to clap them on the back and tell them it'll get better.
"He's the best coach I ever had," says Anderson, a junior who has already been admitted to Towson and Johns Hopkins. Asked why, he pauses to ponder. "He keeps us together," he says.
The broad strokes of the tale sound almost too good to be true: Lifelong go-getter abandons lucrative Wall Street career at age 40 to coach rag-tag inner city baseball team, leads them from an 0-11 season to a win in the playoffs. Along the way, he teaches the players to think like entrepreneurs and develops a passionate interest in the Negro leagues history of his adopted home, Baltimore.
But the story of Michael Rosenband and Carver baseball is not one of a team dominating its foes or of a quest at its end. It's about a man from one place and a group of kids from another, all striving to live meaningful lives and bound together by baseball.
The truth is that this year's Bears — Rosenband's second team at Carver — have not won often. The players' inexperience shows in passed balls and misjudged pop-ups that add up to big innings for opponents.
As for the coach, he's running low on the money he earned from Wall Street and with his own 5-year-old son, Toby, starting school, he's not sure he can continue throwing so much of his soul into the Bears and his efforts to promote Negro leagues history.
"I have to figure out how to generate more income for myself," he says, sounding like any other 42-year-old guy facing a recent divorce and the prospect of tuition bills.
But you can see these practical realities tear at him; he believes the work he's doing in Baltimore, with baseball, is his calling.
"When I'm not sleeping, when I'm not playing with my son, this is what I'm doing," he says. "I don't want this dream to die."
The Carver players couldn't quite believe it when he described the career he'd given up to work with them.
"We said, 'You didn't quit your job! Not for no baseball team!' " recalls Sterling Hardy, the captain of Rosenband's first team.
"For him to have a certain lifestyle and give it away because he trusted us … he went all in so we went all in, too."
Rosenband's bond with Hardy — part father-son, part mentor-protege — speaks to the depth of his efforts. As the two of them sit in a Harbor East coffee shop, telling the Carver baseball story, Rosenband thinks nothing of handing his car keys and credit card to the teenager so Hardy can leave to pay a parking meter.
Rosenband retains the wiry build of a college athlete. Dark stubble frames his lean face and when he talks, he looks straight at you with intense green eyes. Ideas tumble out of him, the next often coming before he has fully explained the previous.
Along with coaching the Carver kids, he has helped them form the Backcatcher Co., its name based on an old colloquialism passed down from the Negro Leagues. The company's mission? To provide experiential learning for the graduates of Baltimore City public schools.
Rosenband and Hardy, a 2012 Carver graduate, have a dizzying array of plans for the company.
They want to use a laser engraving machine at Carver to print replicas of a ticket to the 1942 Negro leagues All-Star Game, which matched Satchel Paige and Baltimore's own Leon Day, who has become a historical symbol for the Bears. They would use recycled steel from the recently imploded Melvale gas tank along the Jones Falls Expressway as a mount for the engravings.