03/09/18 — Baseball Preview --Rosewood's Jason King mixes baseball, gratitude

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Baseball Preview --Rosewood's Jason King mixes baseball, gratitude

By Justin Hayes
Published in Sports on March 9, 2018 2:56 PM

The road back from Whiteville was a long, mostly silent one, as is often the case following a loss that ends things.

Behind him, tucked in a rear view he's seen more than a few times, varying degrees of teenage angst stirred in the hydro-bolted rows of public-school vinyl seats.

His team, a collection of contact-hitting types and bullpen savants, was no more than 60 minutes removed from dropping the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A East Regional championship series to Whiteville -- and rightly showed it.

Some, he figured, were busy tracing the series through a window gaze back to its root -- Game 1, when a sizable Rosewood lead turned into a booted-ball nightmare, capped just 24 hours later by a hail of MacKenzie Gore-styled, major league stuff.

But Jason King -- bus driver in that hour and author of Eagle baseball as you know it -- saw but one thing.


"I think all the initial shock was gone, had left me," he said of the moment. "And I think the majority of what I was thinking then was kind of reminiscing about the season, and the kind of opportunities we had together on the field... the fun times we had together. It was a great season."

He thought about the Easter tournament, a classically tailored baseball tete-a-tete at ageless Fleming Stadium in Wilson, where the 1A Eagles plated 28 runs in 72 hours and spent a pair of 3A outfits like it was their job.

Because, well, it was.

"I thought that was a big key for us," King said with a pointed nod. "We were playing traditionally larger schools, coming out of there with three wins. ...and I think that kind of propelled us into the second half of the season."

He was also grateful, yet again, to see guys like J.P., Chance and Kolby get their due, knowing all the while the group was morphing into something which could properly threaten the mighty Wolfpack.

As the milk-box on wheels continued spinning for home, King's reel-to-reel tape eventually wandered into the batter's box of wunderkind axeman Will Albert, the baby-faced freshman who never rattled and came out of nowhere to hit .448 in a varsity stint as brilliant as it was brief.

But hey, there's only so much one can do after getting called up to the varsity dugout in mid-April.

The old ball coach's 95-mile matrix also included, as it should have, a looking-glass take on his graduating class, full of varsity lifers like Derek Neal -- the kid who wouldn't crack, no matter what bone was broken -- and salted-earth hombres like wild-man Booner, Stalen Massengill and Tanner Flowers.

Gratitude guys, for certain.

"They were a great group," King said with a lingering smile. "Derek and Boone had been varsity guys since the day they stepped on campus. Tanner had been with us for three years, and then Stalen -- just being a rock solid guy."

King pauses momentarily, nodding silently.  

"It was sad those guys were gone. You spent so much time with them -- they feel like your own kids."  

When the bus finally stopped, at long last, his players unpacked and trekked to the four corners of darkened Rosewood.

Jason King did, too -- there was no other choice.

Because the ride was over and the Carolina 1A regular-season waltz wasn't coming back to life the following week, nor was the regional horror dealt by last year's third overall draft pick, Gore.

Baseball life, as the archaic saying goes, is for the baseball living, and King wouldn't be among the latter if he allowed any of his firebrands to labor in what was lost.

Because at Rosewood, in the culture he's created, you take what you have -- which, in any year's case, is good enough -- and embark on a quest for gratitude, not wins and losses.

Come what else may, including this year's Whiteville, even if it's just for old time's sake.