JACKSON, Wyo. — Just to get back on the diamond was a victory for the Jackson Giants. The Post 43 18U Legion baseball team played its first game of the season—a season that was very much in doubt right up until a few weeks ago.
But, alas, it was not a victory in the box score where it counts. The Giants were competitive through six innings against the Idaho Falls Tigers, a team Giants manager Jason Huggins called “a good squad that had our number all last year.”
A 0-0 tie through six last Monday afternoon turned quickly into a rout with Jackson on the losing end of an 11-2 final. An earlier game scheduled for Saturday was rained out, so the Giants returned home with just the one game loss. The news isn’t all bad considering the rest of the AA West division did not fare so well.
The Evanston Outlaws (1-4) are the only team in the division with a win. The Casper Oilers are winless in 5 games. Rock Springs is yet to play.
“We’re a little behind in a few things. Whether it’s hitting in the cage or just finding out where guys can play at, which is a lot of it,” Huggins admitted. “But where we start is not where we are going to end up, and we’ll continue to take those steps to improve beginning this weekend when we go to Rock Springs for four games.”
The Giants are coming off a very successful season last year when the team went 36-22-2.
Despite being shutout in the championship game last year to finish runner-up, Jackson made history just to be there. It was the Giants first-ever appearance in a title game of the Wyoming American Legion Baseball Class ‘AA’ State Tournament, and they had to battle their way through the loser’s bracket to get there. After an opening-round loss to Laramie, Jackson knocked off Rock Springs, Sheridan, and Gillette to get to the showdown with Casper.
But how things have changed in 2020. Ready to build on that momentum, 11-year manager Huggins was not even allowed to put his players on the field for practice until May 4. So, the real victory for Huggins and his ball club was just getting out there to compete for a real game in an unreal world.
“It was just exciting to be there with the kids, playing, to be honest. We didn’t have the outcome we were looking for but it was a great day for everyone—the kids on all the teams and their families,” Huggins said. “Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nebraska—we’re all out there playing games, within the guidelines, and providing these kids opportunity. It’s a lot of work up front but it’s definitely worth it.”
In many ways, it’s a different feel to the same game. Once the first pitch is thrown, “baseball is baseball,” Huggins says, and the game takes on an old comfortable feel where athletes can turn off a pandemic and work on hitting the cutoff.
But last weekend’s ball games provided glimpses of a surreal new normal…at least for now.
Hitters reaching home plate after a dinger are not mobbed by their teammates. Not even the on-deck batter offers a high five. Dugout chatter is non-existent as teams are not allowed to congregate their entire team in close proximity.
And the after-game handshake? Forget about it. That time-honored tradition may be gone forever. Teams now line up on their respective baselines and wave at one another as a sign of sportsmanship.
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