Which squad would have been the team to beat this lost spring in Philadelphia Catholic League baseball?
“Wood,” Ryan DiVergilis said.
“La Salle,” Jack Heineman said.
“Carroll,” Patrick Marley said.
“Bonner,” Nate Furman said. “Take my advice on this one.”
Four baseball standouts.
Four opinions on the likely course of the league season – their senior season, the one they had been anticipating since they started playing summer ball together a few years ago – that was canceled by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
These guys can agree on one thing: This season was going to be something special, a farewell tour of sorts, marked by fierce but friendly competition.
“We all were looking forward to it so much,” said Marley, a Springfield, Delaware County, resident and outfielder for Archbishop Carroll, who plans to continue his baseball career at Arcadia University. “It was like we were going to get one last time to beat each other.”
Marley and Furman, a star shortstop for Bonner-Prendergast and a North Carolina-Charlotte recruit, have been playing together for years. Before entering high school, they were young guns for the Philly Bandits, battling regularly against the Philly Blue Sox, another local AAU team.
In those days, that Blue Sox squad featured DiVergilis and Heineman.
“We didn’t like each other too much,” said Heineman, an Abington resident and outfielder for La Salle College High School, who plans to play baseball at the University of Scranton. “Me and Ryan, we’ve been together for so long. Probably since we were 9 years old. And we used to play against Nate and Pat, and we didn’t think too much of them.”
That all changed a few years ago, when DiVergilis and Heineman joined the Philly Bandits, and all four guys were on the same team, and the former rivals became fast friends.
“We were always rivals growing up,” said Furman, who lives in Brookhaven. “Then we got together, and we hit it right off. We’re all so tight.”
That’s why all four were looking forward to this season. Not only was this going to be their final go-round as high school players and their last chance to serve as leaders for their teams.
They also were going to battle each other for the last time, since Heineman, Marley, and Furman were planning to join college teams unlikely to compete against each other, and DiVergilis had set his sights on playing football at Ursinus.
“Just playing against those guys, it makes the games so much better,” said DiVergilis, who helped Archbishop Wood to the PIAA Class 5A state football title in the fall as a standout defensive player and special-teams ace. In baseball, DiVergilis is an outfielder and top hitter.
“Catholic League games are great, so competitive,” said DiVergilis, who lives in the Somerton section of Philadelphia. “But with those guys, it’s like there’s some comic relief, because we’re always joking with each other. It makes it so much more fun.”
These guys understand that in a world turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, a lost baseball season is not that big of a deal. Plus, they know every other senior in their state is going through the same thing, and more.
“It’s not just baseball, it’s graduation, prom — we’re missing out on all that,” Marley said.
But they also believe this wasn’t going to be just another baseball season.
“It really was heartbreaking to find out we weren’t going to play,” Furman said.
Furman figured Bonner was set to capture the PCL title in baseball. DiVergilis thought Wood would surprise. Marley had Carroll at the top of the pack.
Heineman noted that La Salle won the title last year. He was confident the Explorers were going to defend their crown this spring.
“We had bragging rights from last year, so I guess we keep them,” Heineman said.
All four athletes just wish they had the chance to find out for sure, and to play one last season together – even in opposing dugouts, wearing different uniforms – before going their separate ways.
“It would have been cool,” Heineman said, “to have a finishing note to the whole story.”