Guest column: What a town. What a team. What a journey

By John Tucker

We made our decision to move to Bryant in part by reading about Bryant baseball and the community on this very website.  A little over three years ago, we had a great career opportunity in Little Rock and we were not happy living in Chicago. We decided to move and were looking for a town to call home – a town that our two high school aged kids (not a great time to move) would hopefully thrive in and feel welcome. Bryant ended up our choice and it turned out to be one of the best choices we’ve made as parents.

Doing our research, we found that Bryant was one of the top-rated high schools in the Little Rock area. Education was the most important thing to us and Bryant clearly was a good option.

But our son Seth is a baseball player and Bryant also had a reputation of not only winning baseball games but working hard at winning baseball games – getting up in the early morning hours to practice and staying late after school for even more workouts. Seth had played a lot of baseball, but he had never practiced twice a day. We warned him it would be difficult – that he could go to Benton instead. He said he wanted to be part of a winning program. So Bryant became the choice for school.

During his first year at Bryant as a sophomore, it was tough. Playing since he was five, he had always been the star of the team. In Bryant, he practiced harder than he ever had and just hoped to make varsity and occasionally get some playing time. Fortunately, he made the team. But more importantly, baseball at Bryant gave him direction and purpose during a time of transition when it would have been easy to get lost in a new town.

Working toward a championship with his new found teammates gave him all the incentive he needed to get on the right track.

And what a team they became. The 2016 Bryant Hornets were such a treat to watch. They finished the season state champions and nationally ranked. And while they might not have been the most talented team in the nation, the way they played together made them one of the best.

That’s because most of the team had been playing together since they started playing baseball. And those (like Seth) who came later, seemed to compliment the core of the team. I would often tell Seth during that season that he was on a “special” team that didn’t happen often and he needed to try to enjoy it.

Then came the summer and the team continued to do well in Legion Baseball. At the end of the summer season, we had one more game to win to get to the World Series. Zach Jackson was going to be on the mound. The team was going to cap off a great year by heading to Shelby, North Carolina. It was a dream come true.  And then it didn’t happen.  Short version: It rained and Texarkana was given the championship. The season was over and the team of kids who had played and won together forever was over. They didn’t even get to say goodbye to each other. It just seemed so unfair.

But surprisingly, we weren’t done. This team didn’t give up. Almost everyone came back for one more shot at the World Series. Some had opportunities to play elsewhere, some had coaches that didn’t want them to play and some hadn’t played baseball in a year. But they came back because they loved playing together and they had unfinished business.

It didn’t start off well. After six games, they had lost three games. You had to wonder if they had lost some of the “magic” from the previous year. But they soon shrugged off the rust and with the helpful addition of some younger players (the Bryant tradition is most definitely good hands), and turned in one of the best regular seasons in Black Sox history. Next came the Legion playoffs and the real opportunity to right the wrong that had happened last year.

What an emotional rollercoaster and physical grind the playoffs were. Every time I thought the team was beat, they came back (particularly sweet was coming back and beating Texarkana twice to win the state championship).

They played through heat, humidity, rainstorms, rain delays and a wide variety of baseball fields. They played nearly every day for an entire month and didn’t come home for the last two weeks. It was exhausting just watching.

But through that wonderful stretch, we got to see a fantastic team playing its best baseball during its last few games together.  We got to see Dylan Hurt, Logan Allen and Alex Shurtleff return back to Bryant from playing college ball. Jake East was able to play again for Bryant (and win a playoff MVP). And Aaron Orender got to have one more season of baseball after thinking 2016 was it for him (he also won a postseason award).

It was such a joy to again watch LA run down balls in center, Dylan throw out runners, Beaux dominate and the see coolest DP combo in the nation in action!

While at the World Series in North Carolina, Bryant was often called out for our togetherness and our sportsmanship. I had several people tell me they were rooting for us because we “played the game right” and were obviously a close family. Some in the North Carolina crowd had even started to wear neon green in support of the team. In short, we were a unique and special team and it showed to complete strangers.

My wife and I dropped Seth off at college the day after we lost in the semi-finals. It would have been easy to be down about coming so close to the championship. But we found it much easier to be grateful for how special it was to be a part of the team, the friendships, the life lessons, the championships and the once in a lifetime experiences this team has brought to Seth and our family. He and our family are so much better off for coming here.

To the parents, the coaches, the publisher of this site and the community – baseball just doesn’t exist any place better than here. Thank you so much for making such a positive impact on our lives.

And to the parents of current and future Bryant baseball players – keep after it. Hard work, determination and friendship do pay off. Big time!

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