Have bats and gloves, will travel
by nathan oster
With no Babe Ruth or Legion teams in Greybull this summer, local boys who have wanted to play baseball have had to load up their gear and join teams from other communities to get their fixes of America’s pastime.
The Forcella boys — Calder and Dawson — and Justin Bacus are playing American Legion ball with the Lovell Mustangs, Bryce Wright is in his second season with the Powell Pioneers, and Brock Hill and Morgan Dowling are playing with the Worland Indians, a Babe Ruth squad.
For each, the pros of simply playing ball outweigh the cons of travel and time spent on the road, in unfamiliar surroundings and with unfamiliar teammates.
“You don’t feel the same closeness that you do when you’re playing with kids you go to school with, but it’s been good so far,” said Calder Forcella. “I like the kids (on the Lovell team); they’re funny and we have a good time.
“I think they’ve tried really hard to make us feel welcome.”
Steven Durtsche played for the Mustangs and is in his first year as the team’s manager.
In an interview this week, Durtsche raved about the Greybull trio and their contributions, saying that their absence was definitely noticed last week while they were out of the lineup and away at football camp.
“Without those three, we’d be sitting at nine guys, maybe eight,” Durtsche said. “We’d be hurting for sure. One of the first things I said when I heard they’d be join us is, ‘I’m sorry Greybull doesn’t have a team,’ but at the same time, it really helps us.”
The Mustangs are about halfway through their approximately 50-game schedule, and Durtsche said Calder Forcella has been used in a variety of roles, including outfield, shortstop and pitcher, while his brother Dawson has played catcher and Bacus has been a first baseman and right fielder.
“Calder’s is just a great all-around athlete — probably the best athlete on the team,” Durtsche. “I can put him anywhere and count on him to make a play for us.”
Calder has been used throughout the batting order. He started in the No. 2 hole. Before long, he was in the cleanup spot. Of late, he’s been in a bit of a slump and has been dropped to the No. 6 spot. Durtsche is confident, though, that he’ll snap out of it, saying even the best hitters go through droughts where hits are hard to come by.
Dawson generally hits down in the order, as well, but a lot of that is due to his age. A freshman to be at GHS, he’s at an age where others would be playing Babe Ruth ball. Instead he is playing full time for a Legion team.
And contributing. Before he injured his wrist, Dawson played every game at catcher, where he “stops everything” and is able to neutralize the running game of opponents with his strong throwing arm.
“He’s a vacuum back there,” Durtsche said. “Offensively, he’s patient. He needs to develop a little bit, but that will come with age. He’s a good hitter.”
Bacus has been a big contributor as well. Durtsche said Bacus was quick to volunteer to catch after Dawson Forcella went down with his injury. Bacus struggled the first couple of games, but has made immense gains since, to the point where he, too, drew “vacuum” comparisons from Durtsche.
In fact, as of Monday, Bacus had caught nine straight games for the Mustangs, including all five games at a recent tournament in Green River.
“All three kids seem to be doing very well,” said Durtsche. “They get along and fit right in with the rest of the kids on the team. It’s kind of goofy bunch we have; they like to have a good time, that’s for sure.”
Calder said that while wins have been hard to come by to this point in the season, he feels the Mustangs have the potential to be one of the better teams in the area heading into the postseason. “We just need to get it all together.”
An ankle injury has kept Bryce Wright out of the Powell Pioneers lineup for the last couple of weeks, but the team’s manager, Jason Borders, said he’s hopeful to have Wright back on the field by this weekend.
The Pioneers are 13-9 overall and trending upward after posting a 4-0 record and winning last weekend’s eight-team Heavy Metal Classic in Powell. “We’re only about a third of the way through the season,” said Borders, who is in his first year as head coach but has five total years of coaching experience with the Pioneers, who like the Mustangs play American Legion ball (16- to 18-year-olds).
Bryce joined the team in 2012.
“He came in from Billings with a good background, good structure … he definitely knew what he was doing on the baseball diamond,” said Borders. “You could tell he had been well coached along the way.”
Bryce, a lefty, has primarily played first base and right field in his two seasons with the Pioneers. Wright got off to slow start at the plate. Through nine games, he was hitting .179, but had a respectable .324 on-base percentage, helped by six walks. He also had six RBIs in those nine games.
He’s also done some pitching. So far this year, he’s appeared in four games. He’s 2-0 with a 5.63 ERA and has worked 13.2 innings, surrendering 9 hits while walking 20 and striking out 10.
“He’s a solid kid, he hits the ball well and is a left-handed stick, which is always nice to have in a lineup of mostly right-handed hitters,” said Borders. “Defensively, he’s sound, whether at first base or in right field.”
So why is Wright playing in Powell while the Forcellas and Bacus are with the Mustangs?
Greybull actually falls within the Lovell American Legion post’s boundaries, which explains why the Forcellas and Bacus are there. Wright got a waiver from that rule, however, because Wright has grandparents who live in Powell and put him up during busy stretches of the season to cut down on his travel.
“We appreciate Bryce and the commitment he’s made to our program,” said Borders. “He came from a strong program (in Billings) and he played on some good teams before he arrived here. It’s a bonus for us that we can pencil him into our lineup.”
Like the Mustangs, the Indians have struggled with numbers this season. Dusty Hill, who is an assistant coach, called the Indians a young Babe Ruth team. There are just two 15-year-olds on the roster. The typical ages for Babe Ruth are 13 to 15. Just to field a team, the Indians need to use two 12-year-olds, Hill said.
Brock Hill, 12, and Morgan Dowling, 14, “are among the better players on the team,” Hill said.
The team has been “hit and miss” thus far, Hill said, noting that they put together a couple of nice wins over Powell and Thermopolis — but then within days of that turned around and lost to them by lopsided scores.
“It’s been a pretty tough year,” Hill said. “We have 16 kids on the team, but there for few weeks early on, we only had nine or 10 showing up. This past week, we’re back up to 14-15, which has been good.”
Brock Hill has been playing third base and pitching.
Dowling has been manning the outfield and playing some shortstop.
Statistics were unavailable at press time.
The Indians will be hosting the state tournament this year and with that comes an automatic bid.
Hill said the two Greybull boys are showing “a lot of commitment” to the sport by playing with the Warriors. “When you factor in practices and games, they’re on the road five or six days a week” said Hill. “It’s been a tough year for the team. For them, they got to see what the comeraderie was on the Babe Ruth team here last year. It’s not really like that this year. One day the kids show up and 10-run Powell. Three days later, they play them and get 10 runned. We are trying to get their mental focus up, and prevent kids from getting down on themselves.”