NORTH READING – Cosure can be immeasurably comforting. And in front of a large crowd of friends and family at Carey Park, that’s exactly what the nine seniors on the Lynnfield and North Reading baseball teams got through an exhibition game against each other on Saturday.
The rust was there, and both teams were far from perfect. But even with each team batting their entire roster (14 guys) in their lineups through a nine-inning game, the Hornets and Pioneers got into the contest as if their seasons were never canceled.
Lynnfield turned a close affair into a 7-2 win behind the bat of Evan Balian (double, triple, two RBI) and the arm of Clay Marengi (three scoreless innings, six strikeouts). The atmosphere was competitive, but also very light-hearted. No tears were shed from North Reading over the loss. It was just good for them to all get that last hurrah together, and everyone played.
“It was a good day, absolutely,” said Hornets head coach Eric Archambault. “We were able to get everyone out here and pull it off. … The way the season got cut short, it was really special to take the field together one last time. It was just a really special experience for them.”
“Anytime you have that many seniors, we have nine and they have nine, and to work so hard all winter and the last three years, and then it comes to your senior year and you’re looking forward to it, and you get a crushing blow – it takes the wind out of you,” added Lynnfield coach John O’Brien. “It was great to get back out on the ballfield, see the kids joking, laughing and supporting each other. What better way than to play your Thanksgiving Day rival? Great way to end your career, and at least they all got to play together again.
Originally, the North Reading Diamond Club was planning its annual alumni game for the program when one of the alumni members – Marco Vittozzi (Class of ’81) – thought it would be a good idea to sub out a game against the old-timers with one that could give North Reading the competition it missed out on from the canceled season. Lynnfield is the Thanksgiving Day rival and a competitive Cape Ann League foe. O’Brien also happens to be good friends with former North Reading coaching legend Frank Carey. It all made sense for Vittozzi to reach out.
Senior day pictures and ceremonies for both teams took place before the game. Umpires, coaches and some players threw on their masks, while some others weren’t as cautious. The game went on, a fundraiser for scholarships the schools’ respective booster programs give out raised over $1,000 to split, and most importantly, it looked like everyone had fun.
“The alumni game is a fundraiser for our baseball scholarship, so I figured ‘Well, I’m sure the kids would want to play those Lynnfield kids instead of playing us alumni,’” Vittozzi said. “Each school made about $520 each today … it worked out great. We had a great crowd, it was a great day. It worked.”
That tone was set very early, as Jimmy Currier struggled to consistently throw strikes in warmups for North Reading, but did so with a smile on his face. Senior Chris Gwozdz chirped playfully as Lynnfield’s leadoff hitter, Matt Juliano, approached the batter’s box. Every hit was met with raucous applause from teammates and fans, as was every strikeout.
That continued all the way through the end, even in a 7-2 loss.
“It meant the world (to play),” Gwozdz said. “I missed it a lot. For us seniors to get together one last time, we had played together since little league, it’s really special. Just having fun, playing around with the boys – that’s all we really need.”