One constant for most youth baseball teams is the friendships and bonds formed over the years between players. For one group of five young men, this is their last hurrah. Playing together since 2005, Mike Speakman, Cam Kick, Bryan Nicolini, Mike Adams and Tom Dwyer are members of a Little League All-Star team that qualified for the state championship tournament held last weekend.
All 18 years old and recently graduated from high school, they are integral members of a team they have dubbed the Hitmen. A majority of the club was formed from West Hernando Little League regulars and the remainder of the roster was added from Crystal River Little League.
The team was able to win the Section 7 Big League title last month to lengthen its final run together on the diamond. No one on the roster imagined the ending that was to come. A 6-2 loss to Port St. Lucie Little League on Sunday night sealed their fate and placed them third in the state this season.
"Our pitchers did well," manager John Maggard said. "We just didn't get hits throughout the lineup like we normally do."
The group will likely never play together on the same team again.
When they were all 14, they played for Spring Hill Dixie and made a similar run in the postseason. Maggard was also the manager then and says he remembers the brilliant chemistry and competitiveness of those five players.
The first time the five took the field on the same team, that club also finished third in the state. That drew an eerie parallel to their final time together this past weekend.
However, their most memorable moment together on the diamond is neither this run nor the Dixie titles. In 2007, they played on an AAU travel team named the Cat 5 Hurricanes. Made up of ballplayers from Citrus, Pasco and Hernando counties, the team traveled to St. Augustine that summer to compete in the Triple Crown championships.
"In 2007, we were national champions in St. Augustine," Speakman said. "That's my best memory with these guys. All five were on that team."
The Hurricanes stunned a competitive national field and won the tournament. For Speakman, Kick, Nicolini, Adams and Dwyer, no time has been finer to date. That isn't to say that some of them won't experience greater things. Kick, a Central grad, hung up his spikes to focus on school at Pasco-Hernando Community College, where he'll major in engineering.
"Since I was 12, baseball has pretty much been my whole life," Kick said. "It was a lot of fun while it lasted, but I knew it wasn't going to be that way forever."
Having found prep success as well, Speakman (PHCC), Nicolini (PHCC), Adams (University of Tampa) and Dwyer (Bishop State in Alabama) are moving on to another level of competition.
No matter the next step, they know this success can come and go. As almost any adult will say, these memories of childhood fun with close friends will be what they remember most.
"This entire run with the guys, I kept trying to get everyone to understand that it was going to be our last ride," Kick said. "It is just one of those times you know that you'll never forget."
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