The onset of COVID-19 slowed the world to a glacial pace and created a pandemic that changed daily routines in more ways than one could imagine.
No one knew when - or if - sports would resume.
Adam Pate, who took over as Wayne County’s American Legion coach in 2018, wanted to keep the program intact. He desired to give his players who had been with him from day one the opportunity to enrich their baseball lives.
With the 2020 American Legion season canceled, Pate and several coaches banded together and passionately brainstormed about how they could get their kids on the field. They founded the Independent Summer League - a mixture of older and younger teams from Wayne County and surrounding communities.
The squads battled for nearly two months at the Eastern Carolina Athletic Park.
“It’s a brotherhood,” said Wayne County Jets pitcher Tanner Mckeel after a season-opening victory over the Garner Americans.
“It was great to be back out there with these boys. We’d do anything for each other. You have to keep your head up, can’t really control what happens and you know that resembles a lot of things in baseball.”
McKeel missed his junior season due to an elbow injury and saw his senior year abruptly halted by the coronavirus.
The Jets started 6-0 and posted an 11-1 record through the month of June. They endured a few hiccups in July and logged a 16-9 worksheet that included a runner-up finish to Garner Nationals in the ISL tournament championship.
Pate employed a different lineup every game. He called up players from the Blue team, particularly during weekend contests against perennial Legion powers Randolph County and Florence, South Carolina.
The biggest spot Pate had to fill was when starting catcher Case Kermode received an invitation to play with Edenton in the wooden-bat Coastal Plain League. His departure left utility player Drew Spencer and Braeden Collins to share duties behind the plate.
A rising sophomore at the University of Mount Olive, Kermode swatted a team-high three home runs and hit .375 at the plate.
Pate had no reservations about Kermode leaving for the CPL.
“You want to see kids continue to better themselves,” Pate said. “It was great for Case, but it was tough for our team.”
“We have a bunch of good players who can play different positions. We really pride ourselves in moving kids around, getting them better so when they get to high school or college next year, they’re a better player than when they got here.”
Rowan Watt paced the Jets with a .429 batting average and collected 11 RBI. Will Albert hit .400 with 15 RBI. Spencer recorded a .386 average in the batter’s box and drew a team-leading 17 walks.
Albert emerged the top base thief with 12 steals, followed by Logan Merritt (11) and Clay Matthews (10).
A total of 22 pitchers saw time on the bump. Barton commit Josh Hartsfield registered a staff-high 29 strikeouts and ended the season with a 3.71 earned run average (ERA). Tyler Thompson had the second-most strikeouts with 16.
Adam Brogden led the Jets’ hurlers with three saves.
“We were very cautious with pitch counts early in the summer and then later in the summer we started to stretch them out,” Pate said.
Pate can’t wait for 2021.
He expects several key players to return as Wayne County looks to continue its tradition-rich history.