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‘Huge in so many ways’: High school baseball teams return to field in Maryland with new perspective after pandemic

Pallotti catcher Christian Hobson (17) fouls off a pitch in a scrimmage against CHEN.
Pallotti catcher Christian Hobson (17) fouls off a pitch in a scrimmage against CHEN. (Kyle J. Andrews)

A high of 70 degrees with partly sunny skies, black rubber pellets flying off the turf field and two teams gearing up to scrimmage for a sport that they haven’t played in two calendar years.

That was Tuesday’s reality for the Pallotti and CHEN baseball teams, as the two embarked on the 2021 season. Each program lost the entirety of their 2020 spring seasons because of COVID-19, so just getting back to the diamond became the ultimate reward for their patience.

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Senior Pallotti catcher Christian Hobson entered the batter’s box against a high school-level opponent for the first time since May 2019. He went 1-for-3 on the day, smacking a ball into the gap for triple. The ping sound of the metal bat and the pop of his catcher’s mitt became music to his ears — a symphony that brought back familiar thoughts.

With the unexpected circumstances with the virus and its effect on Pallotti’s other sports, he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to play one more year. While he played summer baseball, the chance to compete in his final high school season is second to none.

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“I was just super excited,” Hobson said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen and when I heard that we were going to have a season, I was just really happy. It just makes it that much more important, especially after last year getting canceled. I thought that we were going to have a solid squad. We didn’t have any seniors, so we were going to have everyone coming back. I’m just super excited and this season will be a good one.”

Catchers are seen as the quarterback of the baseball field. They command the respect of their pitchers and their coaches alike. Immediately when Hobson walked into the bullpen to work with starting pitcher and fellow senior Antonio Sigg, he mapped out the pitches he’d throw and corrected his command.

The situation would be harder to navigate with a catcher who was unfamiliar with his staff. That wasn’t the case for Hobson, who is just one of seven seniors on the team. Despite only having a handful of workouts before hitting the diamond, he felt comfortable with his guys.

“Being a catcher, you want to have a good relationship with your pitchers,” Hobson said. “Not being able to work all winter — we had some practices, but we didn’t really have that same chemistry. It was tough, but a lot of these guys I’ve been friends with for awhile. So, I know how they are. That helped a little bit. Even though it’s a little tougher, it’ll be all right.”

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The moment became even more special for Hobson as his father, Dave, stood and watched his scrimmage. Throughout the matchup, Dave Hobson paced back and forth, mingling with other parents, taking videos of his son playing and chatting with a group of umpires behind the gate who swapped turns calling balls and strikes.

“It’s beyond what any words can even say to be able to come out and watch him play tonight,” Dave Hobson said. “To watch them play them play tonight — his team — you’ve been watching them over the years and you see last year get canceled. To watch them play baseball with his friends and the guys that they’ve been playing with all of this time going out there doing their thing is special.”

On the other side, CHEN coach Tim Hurlburt hit grounders to his team with the use of a fungo bat. He barked out orders for each of his infielders to make throws to first, then finish off different versions of a double play. Hurlburt’s attention to detail with the program has stemmed from CHEN’s base of home-schooled players.

While each athlete is wrapped up with consistent studies at home, even before the pandemic, last year’s season was ripped out of the reach of their outstretched gloves. He was grateful for his program to be back on the field as of Monday, in a scrimmage against Archbishop Curley.

“Having kids that joined the team last year and not seeing them, basically not having kids around for two years, we finally get to see kids play,” Hurlburt said. “It’s getting the monkey off of back kind of thing — it’s just nice to get out here and enjoy the outside. We’ve got a sweet group of guys. With home-schooled kids, there’s no peer pressure or no cliques because they don’t know each other that much. It’s just on the baseball field that they know each other.”

Dave Hobson began to get teary-eyed, realizing that this is the last season that he’ll be able to watch Christian compete in high school.

“Seeing what your child could finally be able to accomplish with his teammates this season in his senior year and seeing them be able to do that is huge,” Dave Hobson said. “It’s huge in so many ways. It’s beyond words and you’re just happy that your kid is playing and doing what he does.”

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