|A man for all seasons|
|May 27, 2016 Frank Marquez|
At baseball practice on a breezy, sunny Monday, Gering Head Coach Rick Kinnaman led his players through almost two hours of drills getting ready for the home opener the next day, a game in which the senior squad prevailed over the Chadron Cardinals, 4-3.
Wasting no time, guys in blue-and-gold practice unis held a one-pound weight in their hand, extending their arm to work on shoulder strength, while others filed through batting practice facing rapid-fire pitches, or checking their swings at another station where they hit the ball off a tee.
Brent Barge, a sandy haired pitcher and a shortstop with a hint of a moustache plays for the senior American Legion Post 36 Platte Valley Companies team this year. At practice, he stepped up to take his swings, whiffing half of them, while a teammate shouted to him from leftfield, “practice is for a reason, bro,” to which he simply shouted back, “I know.”
It’s this reserved nature, a man of few words, which naturally prompts his teammates to describe him as a “good teammate. He doesn’t complain, and he works hard.” He credits his parents, mostly his father, for being an influence in developing his strong work ethic. As an example, he said it was nothing for his dad to work 70 hours a week delivering bread.
When he was younger, and first started playing competitive sports, he was called a hot head, easily frustrated by making bad plays. He’s matured since then, saying “you can’t get too high or too low. If I got angry, that wasn’t good for the team. You realize you are going to lose sometimes, and you just have to work to get better,” Barge said.
He’s come a long way. Barge, who remembers playing soccer at the tender age of 5, then baseball about five years later, filled in the gaps with football and basketball in junior high. He is a rare, if not dying breed among high school athletes, this past year collecting his last round of varsity letters for all four sports, and a host of awards and honors, including outstanding senior athlete for both football and men’s soccer. Barge also received the Gering High School Overall most outstanding senior athlete for 2016.
Many of his teammates have retreated to specializing in one or two sports. Though for Barge, athletics has been a way of life, it did not always transfer to family. Making his mark as the youngest of four, his sisters Natalie, 31, and Jennifer, 21, played softball and soccer. His older brother Cody, 29, focused on soccer. However, family outings had little more to do with sports than taking in a little practice at Boondock’s batting cages.
Year round, he has bonded with teammates. He said, his parents told him “I had to be in something, or I had to get a job.” He chose sports, and having friends. On the junior high football teams, he played running back, but there were guys who were better. He then switched to wide receiver, and defensive back because of his size and speed. Barge is 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, his physique amenable to playing shortstop, midfielder in soccer, and the basketball team’s point or shooting guard. It fits his DNA, not always getting the glory, getting a workman’s catch in football, or getting a pick on defense. Or, he was serving up scoring opportunities for his soccer and hoops mates on the field or on the court.
What breaks him out of his stoic manner? “Scoring goals in soccer is the greatest feeling,” he said. “Especially in close games.
When you score, it really gets your heart pumping.”
Though, with graduation two weeks gone, he has looked back on a year of involvement, a blur of yearbook photos. Among a host of high school clubs, he also sang in the spring musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a member of the chorus.
He also performed in Harmony’s show choir which required a showmanship not unlike taking center stage on a pitching mound at Oregon Trail Park, hurling his repertoire of fast balls, curves, and an occasional unpredictable knuckle ball. Given a solid supporting cast, a stingy infield defense, and memories of a state championship for Gering Legion baseball in 2012, Barge is confident this year could mean more winning than losing. At the least, this season will be his last chance he’ll have to hone his skills before taking his talents to the next level. He plans to walk on at Western Nebraska Community College to play baseball for Cougars Head Coach Mike Jones in 2017. But before that happens, he faces a season of 20-plus games and a possible playoff run.
At 18, his own man, Barge said when it’s all said and done, “I won’t miss running at practice, but I will miss the camaraderie, all the friends I made, and the competition.”
American Legion Baseball Scores
WESTCO Zephyrs 9, Alliance Spartans 3
Gering Platte Valley Companies 4, Chadron 3
Alliance Spartans 14, WESTCO Express 5
Chadron Cardinals 9, Gering B&C Steel 0
Casper 15, Morrill Vigilantes 3 (Sunday)
Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Brent Barge (center) plays pitcher and shortstop for the American Legion Post 36 Platte Valley Companies seniors team this season. Barge is a unique breed of high school athlete, playing in sports year round, while many of his peers choose to focus on one or two.