Joey Gaynor is all that’s good about high school sports.
He may be the first high school player to get two standing ovations in the same inning in the state baseball championship game.
The senior, a lefthanded-hitting backup outfielder for Center Moriches, pinch hit with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the sixth inning Saturday.
As Gaynor walked to the plate, the Center Moriches crowd rose and gave Gaynor thunderous applause. The outpouring of support was incredible, just one of the reasons why the small South Shore community is so special.
The standing-room-only crowd remained full-throated as Gaynor lined a one-hopper that was turned into a first-to-home-to-first double play. He ran back to the dugout and the crowd gave him another ovation.
Then the 5-1 Gaynor was greeted by all of his teammates at the mouth of the dugout.
Never in his wildest imagination did Joey Gaynor, a small-in-stature, big-in-heart Red Devil, think he’d find himself playing in the state championship game. Yet there he was soaking in all the glory that can come with being a high school athlete.
“I wanted to get a hit so bad for the crowd that drove all the way up there to support us,” said Gaynor, who had one hit this year. “It was a great opportunity and I went up there with confidence. The first baseman made a nice play. But hey, I’ve been a part of two state championships.”
Center Moriches went on to close out an 11-1 win and claimed its second straight state crown. Not lost in the celebration were the special moments and what they represented along the way.
Gaynor and seniors James Pfister and Dakota Hotaling pinch hit in the sixth and Robert Pelosi played rightfield. It was a statement by Center Moriches coach Dennis Donovan that everyone matters. He recognized all the hard work and effort of every single player. He had the presence of mind to live in the moment. He took a step back and thought about everyone wearing the red and white of Center Moriches, and that cannot be understated.
He wasn’t caught up in the anticipation of the bedlam that would follow when sophomore pitcher Jordan Falco capped the title with a strikeout. Donovan, with a 10-run lead, still was coaching all of his players, and for that you have to tip your cap.
Gaynor’s at-bat is unforgettable because of its significance. The result wasn’t important because the moment was so big, not only for Gaynor but for what it represented to every hard-working, passionate high school athlete who gets the opportunity to play in any game at any time.
And that is the essence of high school sports.
Those seniors will always look back and have a story to share. The championship memories will include Alec Maag’s monstrous home run to centerfield that will become even more monstrous as the years go by. There will be tales of power-hitting designated hitter Brad Sakellarides, not the fastest baserunner, drilling two balls into the outfield gaps for a double and a triple. The story will be told and he will become known as one of the fastest to ever run the bases.
You can bet there will always be a place for the Joey Gaynor story. He will become a piece of Center Moriches lore.
Gaynor never asked for an at-bat. He was happy to be part of a two-time championship team that has won 41 straight games.
Gaynor was one of 15 seniors on the roster who were playing in their final high school game. He had all of 10 at-bats through the first 25 games this year but never missed a practice. He never lost his sense of humor or positive attitude. He was all about the team, and therein is the key to this championship squad.
Donovan put a perfect season at risk in the final game of the regular season on Senior Day as part of his molding a championship team.
“I was never concerned about being perfect but only with winning a state title,” he said. “Some folks didn’t like it. But it all worked out anyway.”
To Donovan, it wasn’t about being perfect, it was about being an educator and teaching life lessons. It was about recognizing every player on the team in some way.
Never lost on Donovan was the importance of team and togetherness. He coached that way all season, and by giving his players memories for a lifetime, he showed he is the epitome of class.
Joey Gaynor knows that as well as anybody.