In the middle of June, there is no region or state championship to be played for. The final scores and win-loss records mean next to nothing as the summer baseball season provides an opportunity for up-and-coming players to get much-needed playing experience at the varsity level.
Most of the time, these games are really just glorified practices.
That is, except when it’s a traditional rival sitting in that other dugout.
This summer, for the first time, Grantsville, Stansbury and Tooele are all taking part in the same league, and they’ve all gotten to face each other for bragging rights. Tooele went 2-0 against its two county rivals, while Grantsville was 1-1 and Stansbury was 0-2. Again, the records don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but, to the players, these games definitely mean a little more.
The fact of the matter is that you never want to lose to your rival at anything at any time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Friday-night football game in September or a 7-on-7 tournament in June; a region-championship basketball game in January or a summer-league tournament game in some middle-school gym somewhere; or, in the case of this week’s baseball games, a three-game region series in April or a one-off exhibition.
For the upperclassmen, it’s a sense of pride. Nobody at Tooele High wants to lose to Stansbury at anything, and vice-versa. Grantsville doesn’t want to lose to either of them. They’re going to go all-out to try to make sure that doesn’t happen. They also want to set an example for the rest of their teammates who haven’t been through the pressure cooker of a rivalry game — “this is how it’s done.”
But, what about the younger kids?
Nothing will make a bigger impression than making a big play against a rival. Sure, the pressure isn’t quite the same on a Wednesday night in June as it will be on a Friday afternoon next spring with region positioning on the line. A lot of these newly minted freshmen and sophomores are competing for the 14th and 15th spots on the varsity bench come March. They might not see a lot of playing time, but it can’t hurt to show their teammates and coaches that when called upon, they can make a difference.
So, while championships won’t be won or lost under the heat of the summer sun, these games are far from meaningless. The lessons learned against old rivals could still pay off down the road.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He knows from experience that summer league isn’t all about fun and games. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.