Story by Warwick Valley Central School District Superintendent Dr. David Leach
There’s always been something about baseball that makes it different from every other sport, and there’s something almost mystical in how difficult it is to define what sets it apart. But those who love the game don’t dwell on this all that much. They simply accept it as true.
But Coach William Zwart, of the Warwick Valley Middle School Modified Baseball team, has spent some time thinking about it. The thing that’s different about baseball, he says, is time.
He’ll point out that in baseball there is no clock. No one is counting minutes and no buzzer sounds an alert that it’s over. The length of the innings and even the game itself is unregulated and indeterminate. Baseball takes all the time it needs.
“That time leaves space in baseball for other things to happen,” he says.
Coach Zwart’s players this year made space and time for an unofficial teammate, a student named Andy Casale, who loves the game as much as anyone you’ll ever come across. Andy is an eighth grader and attends specialized classes at the Warwick Valley Middle School. He is a baseball fan, but, says Coach, also very shy.
Zwart and Andy got to know each other at the beginning of each school day, through scores, then hundreds of short encounters over the course of the school year. Before each day, from 7:20 a.m. until 7:40 a.m., Coach Zwart is at the entrance of the Middle School, greeting students. He and Andy, despite that shyness, connected. Soon coach and student had formed a bit of an alliance over, of course, baseball.
“He displayed a genuine excitement about the sport,” says the coach. One day he gifted Andy with a Warwick Valley baseball cap, which Andy wore faithfully, day in and day out. “Baseball became a means by which I was able to open Andy up to new situations and challenges,” he said.
Then Coach Zwart had an idea, and he took that idea to Shawn Myers, a P.E. teacher at the school. One of baseball’s greatest honors is the ceremonial first pitch and who more than Andy, who loves his school and his home team, would be a better choice for the job. The goal was set – get Andy ready to throw the first pitch of the last game of the Wildcats’ season.
Myers was immediately on board and agreed to help Andy practice. An invitation to Andy was issued and a response, neatly typed with the help of Fran Sinclair, Andy’s aide, was quickly returned. It said:
Dear Mr. Zwart,
I am going to a baseball game on Monday. I have a job. I will throw out the first ball. My family will be there. I am so happy.
The weather in Warwick after school on Mon., Jun. 3, was the kind of weather players and managers and fans hope for; sunny in the upper 70s, a soft breeze to ward off the late spring heat, and a blue sky that hosted a small flock of cumulus clouds.
The game was Warwick Valley versus Valley Central, and while the players were on the field and in the batting cage warming up, Andy warmed up his arm behind the dugout, throwing the ball with Mr. Myers.
When it came time for the game to begin, the players lined the field, the visitors along the first baseline, the Wildcats along the third, and Andy, with his friend and coach, made his way onto the diamond. The players held their caps over their hearts as the pledge was said, then all eyes were on Andy.
He stood in the way all pitchers stand, facing Wildcat catcher Joey Rodrigues. There was the windup, and the pitch, and a ball sailed in a soft and gentle arch above the pitcher’s path to Joey’s glove.
And then it was time to play baseball.
Each week, Warwick Valley Central School District Superintendent Dr. David Leach shines the “The Superintendent’s Spotlight” on one of Warwick Valley’s amazing students. “Superintendent’s Spotlight” features students who reach goals, face challenges, and are role models to their peers.