The SLO High School baseball team is filled with wild animals.
For proof, look no further than warmups before a game against Arroyo Grande this season. Junior Ben LeMiere pretended to be a bull, complete with fingers for horns, and charged freshman Cooper Benson who yanked an invisible muleta as he ran past. Later, LeMiere jumped on the back of senior Greg Hart who pretended to be a bucking bronco.
In other games, LeMiere pretended to be a deer as other players hunted him down and posed for pictures with the prized buck after the mimed kill.
It was all part of the circus of the most entertaining high school baseball team I watched this season.
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“It’s the most fun team I’ve ever coached (in 13 years). And it’s not even close,” San Luis Obispo head coach Brian Wong said. “The team chemistry is second to none.”
Every circus needs a ringmaster, but it’s not Wong. He’s just in charge of the baseball. The craziness was led by LeMiere.
He was the one coming up with personalized hand shakes for each of the 16 other players on the team. He came up with the pregame deer hunting in honor of senior first baseman Jake Maino’s love for hunting. LeMiere even made a video trailer for the season, appropriately set to theme music from “The Office.” (Watch a portion of the video above or the entire thing HERE)
He followed it up with a video tribute to the seniors on the team that featured freshman Brooks Lee emerging from a trash can before saying a few kind words about shortstop Matthew Mundorf.
“I will definitely remember it as the most fun season of baseball I have ever had, and I have been playing for eight years,” LeMiere said.
Winning makes everything a little more fun, and the Tigers did plenty of that, too. SLO was 25-7 (19-2 PAC 8) and won its first league championship since 2011.
It was a result of just the right mix of talent and personalities. Not much different than what’s been going on with the Chicago Cubs this year.
I will never forget the quote of the year when I asked SLO pitcher Jake Rodgers what offseason workouts he did to gain velocity on his fastball: “Curls for the girls,” he said.
Rodgers finished the year with a 9-0 record and a 0.66 ERA.
There was also the season-long “bromance” between the team’s two top freshman, Lee and Benson, that got plenty of play on Twitter.
“Everyone in their lifetime deserves a person who looks at them the way Cooper looks at Brooks,” tweeted Benny Rodgers along with a photo of the two celebrating together.
Lee led the team in batting average (.438) and had a walk-off hit in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. Benson’s blistering fastball was part of the best pitching staff in the league.
“Not only a couple guys on the team am I friends with, but all of the other 16,” LeMiere said. “We are all going to be just the closest of friends. It’s kinda weird. It’s not like that on many other teams. It’s like playing with family.”
Wong said the family atmosphere helped to create good natured competition between teammates, or what the players called “beef,” that Wong said helped to elevate the overall level of play.
The Tigers’ season ended Tuesday, sooner than I thought it would, with a 2-1 loss to Culver City in the second round of the playoffs. Despite the loss, the pitching, the antics, the competition and the wins all added up to be a memorable and resurgent year for SLO baseball. And although the team will be losing five senior starters including two top pitchers, LeMiere will be back next season to lead the circus once again.
I know I’ll have my ticket ready.