Persistent baseball losing has not cost Steve Hansberry his sense of humor.
Just before 5:30 p.m. yesterday, he cradled in his hands a baseball that most would consider rather special, and every so often he flipped it into the air.
So, what's going to happen to that thing?
"I'm probably going to sell it on eBay," Hansberry said. "McDevitt baseball memorabilia is at a premium right now."
He added later, "I'm going to set the reserve at $6. I'm figuring it's worth $5.50."
For the first time in city baseball history, yesterday's schedule offered two games - both in the Catholic League - where all teams entered with 0-15 league marks.
Such a quirky development was possible because the CL, in a one-and-done trial (PIAA scheduling restrictions will prevent a repeat in 2008), this year is going with three-game series against each division opponent.
Hansberry, a 5-10, 155-pound senior righthander, twirled a two-hitter with five strikeouts as visiting Bishop McDevitt bested Cardinal Dougherty, 6-0, in the Northern Division. The South affair yielded a 14-4 win for visiting Ss. Neumann-Goretti over West Catholic.
This decade has not been kind to the quartet. N-G leads at 33-101 in league play while McDevitt and Dougherty (loser of 30 in a row) are tied at 32-102. West is limping along at 10-121 (4-112 since the final three games of 2000) and owns a 50-game schneid.
Hansberry can't imagine being a Burr. The Lancers' miseries have been draining enough.
"It's very difficult being a baseball player at McDevitt," he said. "We don't get much help from the school in terms of financial support [some players wear T-shirts for uniform tops] or fan attention.
"You have rough moments. I guess the worst was last year. Our season wasn't going too well, and there was a lot of frustration, and there was a pretty big blowup at practice one day. You think about [quitting]. But you don't."
He added, "Even though we don't win too many games, you still have fun sometimes."
There was just a hint of a pause between "fun" and "sometimes."
Hansberry, a quick worker, allowed just three balls to leave the infield while notching McDevitt's first shutout league win since April 26, 2002 (1-0 over North Catholic, thanks to Bob Mitros). Joe Gallagher was responsible every time, thanks to a first-inning single to right, a fly to center and a liner to left. Pinch-hitter Steve Halbherr bagged the second hit with a seventh-inning infield single.
In the second, a walk to senior righthander Mark McGuinn was going to load the bases for Dougherty with two away. However, as ball four was called, Mark McAllister drifted too far off third base and catcher Frank Doyle gunned a throw to R.P. Boyle to erase him.
In this one, coach Buddy Glemser's Lancers committed three errors. Seemed like none to Hansberry.
"When you throw ground balls and the fielders don't make the plays, it gets very frustrating," he said. "You have to take it game by game and keep hoping. I try to throw strikes as much as I can, and keep the ball low and let the infield make the plays."
Based on experience, was Hansberry expecting eventual disaster?
"I was," he said, smiling. "I was still expecting Dougherty to score one or two runs here and there."
The 6-4 McGuinn, who is bound for West Chester and hopes to walk on, had one bad inning. McDevitt scored all of its runs in the sixth as Boyle started things with a double down the leftfield line, then Joe Mitros (single, Bob's brother), Mike DeCristafano (triple), Andrew Neyer (double) and Bob Forsythe (single) lashed hits good for one run apiece. Errors permitted two counters.
McDevitt has made the playoffs just once ('95), but Dougherty, N-G (and its forerunners) and West have experienced proud moments. The skids have been caused primarily by changing student demographics, and in N-G's case a diluted talent pool caused by the addition of more South Philly schools.
Dougherty's first-year coach, alumnus Steve Carr, the son of longtime amateur scout Frank Carr, had just 12 players in uniform. The JV team was eliminated earlier this season due to the numbers shortage.
Hansberry, who lives in Glenside, is headed to Penn State's main campus to pursue a career in . . .
"Not sure yet," he said. "Undecided."
He does know 1-15 feels decidedly better than 0-16. *