|Morrill baseball back in business|
|June 10, 2016 Frank Marquez|
Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Teammates from Torrington and Morrill, Zane Rising and Phillip Soto, backing him up, practice fielding for the Morrill Vigilantes. The mix of players has given the Legion team new life.
The Morrill Legion Post 10 Vigilantes C was a baseball team that folded about 10 years ago because of the lack of interest, according to Head Coach Jeff Avila. Thanks to players from neighboring towns, the team has new life this season. Aside from the home village, the core team is joined by players from Mitchell, and Torrington, Wyoming. Apparently Legion teams are not corralled by border restrictions.
In the early ought years, Morrill’s teams were made up solely of Morrill boys.
Today, the village population is a little less than 1,000 people.
Anyone driving along Highway 26 heading east from Gering and Scottsbluff, will pass through Mitchell first. Going further, anyone driving the short distance to Morrill won’t miss seeing the Vigilantes’ practice field looking to the right of the highway on the eastern outskirts of the village.
With no real dedication or name, the field is simply called Legion Field. One of the team’s pitchers, Donte Bellairs, fretfully called the field a “sandlot.” The team’s members also struggled to define the meaning of the team mascot, technically outlaw do-gooders.
At practice this past Monday night, mosquitoes nipping, seven of the players began shagging ground balls hit to them by Coach Avila. Only half the team could make it, including Morrill’s Andrew Avila (the coach’s son), Rowdy Lind, and Phillip Soto; Torrington’s Jayden Schlagel and Zane Rising; and Mitchell’s Luke Hessler and Bellairs.
Absent players Morrill’s Johnny Hessler, Trevor Cecil, and Houston Gonzalez, and Mitchell’s Xavier Burnett, Ryan Hubbard, and Scott Snygg gave good reasons for missing. Five of the players were at athletic camps, and Gonzalez was attending an important family function.
The practice consisted of traditional drills – batting practice, fielding, and throwing around the bases – but most of the players bemoaned having to repeatedly sprint the several hundred yards or so across the baseball field to the infamous “pole,” a simple lighting structure near the scoreboard.
The Vigilantes opened their season, playing their first two games of a 29-game season on May 21. They played Bridgeport and Torrington at a tournament in Alliance, losing 8-4 and 6-5, respectively. So far this season, the closest they have come to winning was against Torrington. Capping the tourney, on May 22, Sunday, they lost to Casper, 15-3, a game in which only Burnett, Lind and Cecil scored runs.
Raised eyebrows amid an expression mixed with wonder and excitement, Rising said, “We improved a lot since we first started. Hopefully, we can start winning.”
Clad in a faded Denver Broncos T-shirt, braces flashing in the middle of a rounded-face just leaving boyhood, Hessler added, “We have worked on things in the infield and outfield, and fixed errors we made in the previous games, like bad throws and bad catches.”
Although Legion baseball allows players 19 and younger, most of Morrill’s team consists of eighth graders to high school sophomores – “We have very young kids,” Coach Avila said. The team ranges in size from the 5-foot-1 Gonzalez to the 6-foot-5 Hubbard, while Cecil and Burnett are the team’s most fleet-footed. Their interest and idols vary as well. Bellairs proclaims the greatness of Bo Jackson, while Rising, munching on sunflower seeds, tries to emulate Colorado Rockies infielder Nolan Arenado. Otherwise, said Soto, it’s the bandwagon for the rest of the team.
Andrew Avila, who had been resting his pitching arm in the dugout, said, “since our first practice when we all got together,” most of the players meeting for the first time, “we are still trying to figure out some things. We now have a general idea of where people can play, and we can play anywhere, pretty much. We can all catch and throw. We’re all pretty athletic.”
Now, at the end of the third week, at 0-8, they would yet again face Bridgeport in a double-header on June 9, Thursday. With only a day off, they will meet Bridgeport for another double-header on June 11, Saturday, at home, followed by a double-header versus Buckley on June 15, Wednesday.
Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, the Vigilantes are just glad to be back in business.
Courtesy photo The Morrill Vigilantes pose for a team photo for the 2016 season. Team members include in the back row, left to right: Donte Bellairs, Andrew Avila, Johnny Hessler, Trevor Cecil, Xavier Burnett, Ryan Hubbard, and Scott Snygg Front Row: Luke Hessler, Houston Gonzales, Phillip Soto, Zane Rising, Rowdy Lind, and Jayden Schlagel.
Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Rowdy Lind, a Morrill sophomore, throws the ball home during fielding drills on Monday, in preparation for a double-header against Bridgeport. Lind said he prefers the outfield, but with the team’s limited size, all of its players make the rounds at each position.