When Cody Cross stepped to the plate Tuesday afternoon to kick off Old Town High School’s 2010 baseball season, he was convinced he was not alone.
Sure enough, he wasn’t.
His teammates and coaches stood in the Coyotes’ dugout in anticipation not only of Cross’s at-bat, but of the season to come.
And that’s to be expected, for the first game of any new season on a bright, sun-filled late afternoon in the spring not only brings a great adrenaline rush, but also a sense of optimism that really can’t be matched at another time of year.
There also was an enthusiastic crowd of Old Town fans that had made the short trip to neighboring Orono to watch their team take on its longstanding rival.
That this was supposed to be their team’s home opener — only to be doused by a rainstorm earlier in the afternoon that made Old Town’s field too wet to play on — didn’t seem to matter.
Even within the batter’s box, Cross was convinced he was getting help — and what ensued on the first pitch only served to confirm his belief.
Cross sent that very first pitch, a fastball in the middle of the strike zone about belt high, off into the distance some 370 feet from home plate to straightaway center field.
It went just far enough to sail beyond the outfield fence for a stunning home run.
One pitch, and suddenly the Coyotes not only feeling the joy of competing for the first time after several weeks of practice, but that practice had paid off in the most immediate way.
And Cross’s teammates, his coaches and the Old Town fans all celebrated.
Cross celebrated, too, but he also reflected on the slight breeze at his back that carried the baseball its final distance beyond the fence, and of the fallen friend with whom he shared the batter’s box.
“That wind, that was him,” said Cross after the game, a 14-0 Old Town victory. “That was Cody helping me, I know so.
“He helped us through this entire game.”
Cody Hamm would have been a junior on the Old Town baseball team this spring, a pitcher and an outfielder moving up from the junior varsity ranks, a popular teammate whom Cross described as a best friend.
He also was an honor student and an accomplished percussionist with the school band, as well as a lover of the great outdoors.
But Hamm died tragically at age 16 in a car accident just six weeks ago, leaving behind a legacy of friendship with all he met, as well as a void for those he left behind — including his baseball teammates.
“It’s a little bit different this year because he was always the jokester on the team,” said Old Town junior pitcher Casey Estes. “If we were down, he’s always the one who would give us a joke and get us back up again and happy. “
That Hamm is still a valued part of the team will be in evidence throughout the spring.
The Coyotes’ team baseball caps are adorned with “CJH #1” in reference to his uniform number. Players also are wearing black wristbands with a similar notation, and Hamm’s jersey is brought to each game.
But his persevering contribution to his team will be in how he serves as a unifying force for a common goal — and how he helps a deep fly ball become a home run.
For even in his passing, Hamm remains a Coyote.
“We’re dedicating the season to Cody,” said Estes. “Hopefully we’ll make the playoffs and make a good run for him.”