A sledgehammer-like echo rang out repeating itself over and over as Braden Fryer took batting practice Monday as his fellow Mineral Wells High School senior and best friend Matthew Pierce fed up balls inside the cage located at Fryer’s home.
The cage net is a hand-me-down gift from a friend of Fryer’s father who lives in nearby Santo. The only requirement being that Fryer returned the favor by gifting it to someone else when he was done with it. Here and there zip ties are patching the occasional hole where the netting has taken too many shots from a hard-hit baseball. Included with the gift was an older model pitching machine.
Like their teammates, Fryer and Pierce are trying to stay sharp, for if and when, the 2020 baseball season starts again after play was halted due to health and safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 virus.
Mineral Wells was off to a 7-3-1 start under first-year Coach Brett Ray who has managed to impress his charges and turn on the lights inside the Rams’ heads about the game of baseball. Ray’s ability to spot weaknesses and launch a strategy to exploit them had both players excited about the season, which only ramps up their desire to return to the diamond.
“I miss school and being in front of my teachers where I can ask a question and not have to email or do Facetime online,” Fryer said. “I miss all of my friends, the routine of school, and of course, baseball most of all.”
Fryer was off to a hot start with a perfect 4-0 record and 1.41 ERA. He’s a multi-sport athlete who laid off of basketball this year with the hopes of honing his baseball skills to the point where college coaches would be making scholarship offers.
Hill College had scheduled a scout to watch him pitch, but with the season halted, players and coaches may have to resort to technology. McMurry College has courted Fryer and has been in contact, letting him know they are still wanting him to consider continuing his career in Abilene.
Fryer always has liked nearby Tarleton State in Stephenville, but the Texans are moving up to D1 and won’t be allowed into the postseason NCAA tournament for four years, and that has to be a consideration, too.
With his new SAT scores just coming back, Fryer was excited about getting those sent off in emails to schools.
Pierce’s thoughts of playing baseball at the next level are newer than Fryer’s.
“I’m a little behind, but I have been told I can get there if I work hard at it,” Pierce said.
Who knows what will happen when Pierce “catches up,” because he was leading the Rams’ in run production with 10 RBI, a .308 batting average, and half of his hits are going for extra bases. The second baseman was also turning into a great pivot-pin on turning double plays for Mineral Wells.
With the success, they were having as a team, and as individuals, the stoppage of play was hard to deal with at first.
“Coach Ray has been great with working at inspiring us with different workouts and his messages to us about how he misses us and encouraging us to stay positive,” Fryer said.
The school work hasn’t “been that bad” for both players, but staying positive was a little hard to do at first as the realization began to set in with online classes, no schoolmates and not having the ability to socialize.
“The hardest part is staying positive,” Pierce said. “We work at trying to lift each other.”
Together the two seniors have taken on the role of leadership and encouraging their younger teammates and letting them know they both have hopes and dreams and aren’t giving up.
Riding around together one night, they began to discuss what they wanted out of the remainder of their senior year and decided they were going to step up to motivate their teammates by word and example.
“Following the social distancing rules makes it a little hard to get in workouts, but we go to the city park to run and throw and work on things,” Fryer said. “We stay apart from each other and keep things in mind about using disinfecting equipment and washing our hands.”
Aside from missing baseball, the senior prom weighs heavy on both players’ minds, and they haven’t given up on the big night either.
“When we are in school, we say we hate it,” Fryer said. “I honestly would give anything to go back right now. I miss school, the teachers, and my friends.”
More than anything right now, it is the hope of continuing the baseball season that drives both players, and with each slap of the ball hitting the leather of a glove, they continue to sew another thread into their hopes that baseball will restart.
“I love that sound. The sound of a baseball hitting a glove,” Fryer said. “I didn’t realize how much until all of this stopped the season. We were off a couple of days and started throwing, and that slap just got to me. I love this game.”