Reece Early had a good source to lean on while he prepared to take part in this year’s Brooks Robinson All-Star Game.
Cap Poklemba, Early’s baseball coach at Gerstell Academy, played in the senior game 20 years ago. Almost to the day, in fact, Poklemba said after watching Early pitch two innings Sunday as a member of the North team.
“I told him last week, ‘No matter what happens, just go out and have fun,’” Poklemba said. “Get out there on the mound, I said, take a couple extra seconds between each pitch. Walk around a little bit, and enjoy.”
Early did his best to take everything in at Camden Yards, which hosted the annual Brooks Robinson game following the Orioles’ 8-1 loss to San Francisco. The South topped the North 3-1, but the outcome didn’t seem to sour Early’s experience.
“It’s so hard to put into words,” he said. “It’s amazing to step out on such an amazing field like this. The first time that I went out on the mound, I just had so much adrenaline. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Early came out of the Orioles’ bullpen and pitched the third inning for the North in a scoreless game. The South squad got its first run, however, when Early couldn’t handle a grounder back to the mound.
Early notched a strikeout and got out of the inning with a fly out to center.
The North tied the score in the sixth inning, and Early came back out for the seventh to pitch against the home team. The South added two more runs, though, for the final score.
Still, Early said he treated the all-star game as such and wasn’t too disappointed with the result.
“I just took it all in,” he said. “When I walked off the field, I just thought to myself, ‘Wow. This is incredible. You might not ever step back on this field again.’ I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
Early finished his varsity season with a 5-2 record (three saves) and a 1.19 ERA. He collected 95 strikeouts over 53 innings. At the plate, Early hit .417 with seven doubles, five home runs, 27 runs, and 23 RBIs. He also crafted a .534 on-base percentage.
Early led Gerstell to its first Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championship this season when the Falcons won the B Conference title in thrilling fashion. They got to the finals and faced Boys’ Latin, but needed to beat the Lakers twice in two days to claim the crown.
Boys’ Latin, which had defeated Gerstell twice in the regular season and once in the playoffs, all in convincing fashion, was going after a fourth consecutive MIAA title. Early started against the Lakers on May 20 in his team’s first elimination game, and pitched a complete game with 12 strikeouts in Gerstell’s 6-3 victory.
Early smacked a home run in that game, and the next day came into pitch with two outs in the seventh inning and the Falcons leading 6-4.
Gerstell’s ace got the final out with a strikeout, earned a save, and stamped the program’s first championship in its fifth year of varsity existence.
“It’s still unbelievable that we beat them twice to win the championship,” Early said.
Century’s Jared Lamb joined Early on the North’s all-star roster as an alternate. Lamb led Carroll County in batting average (.560) and home runs (seven), and went 3-1 with 48 strikeouts and a 1.88 ERA.
Lamb helped the Knights repeat as Carroll County Athletic League champions.
Early is set to graduate from Gerstell this Friday, and he has three-plus weeks to get ready for his next step — he’s bound for Annapolis at the US Naval Academy.
Poklemba earned Most Valuable Players for the North team when he represented McDonogh in the 1999 game — it was the Crown All-Star Game back then — and said he talked to Early about understanding his place in the moment.