By TREY WILLIAMS
David Crockett baseball coach Spencer Street can only wonder what might have been when thinking about record-setting quarterback Cade Larkins’ potential 2020 season on the baseball diamond.
Larkins and seven other Pioneers lost their senior season to the coronavirus pandemic.
Larkins, of course, was the only one that had the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers evaluating him on a rainy January day.
“Cade had the highest exit velocity in the state,” Street said. “He was a pure power hitter.”
Larkins signed to play football at East Tennessee State. Street says there’s an outside chance he could still end up on the field at Thomas Stadium.
“Cade was our best player,” Street said. “He was a guy that everybody loved, all the guys wanted to be around him all the time. I don’t think you can write enough about him. His work ethic was unreal. He had the highest GPA in the school and he was the best athlete. He would’ve started on the basketball team if he’d wanted to play. …
“He really is somebody you kind of feel yourself being drawn to, and I know the younger guys did as well. He’d take younger guys under his wings. He was nice to everybody.”
Pitcher Nolan Miller also appeared set for a gratifying senior season. His father (Brian) was an assistant coach and the baseball field is named after his grandfather, Warren “Sonny” Miller.
“Everybody loved Nolan Miller,” Street said. “At Crockett, coming from the lineage Nolan came from, I think a lot of kids would’ve felt a ton of pressure. But I just never saw it from him.
“Nolan was always smiling and really took on a leadership role this year. That was a huge change from his junior year, when he was really quiet and reserved. He knew he was expected to be a leader and took it head on.”
Miller pitched in a win against Elizabethton in the first week of what proved to be a week-long season this year.
“He gave up a couple of runs,” Street said, “but he just battled and he dealt and shut ‘em down. And that was a really good lineup.”
Outfielder Kaleb Swanson made the team in resounding fashion after not playing in previous seasons.
“Kaleb tried out late his junior year,” Street said. “Coach (Clint) Freeman spoke on his behalf, because we had had tryouts and weren’t gonna do another tryout till February. And he said, ‘You’ll wanna see this kid.’ And I saw him, and he had great pop with the bat.
“He’s sneaky funny in the clubhouse. He doesn’t say a whole, whole lot, but he picks his spots and he’s very witty. He was a good kid to be around. He busted his butt and took weightlifting both semesters. He never hardly missed, and I know at one point he was working and coming to baseball at the same time.”
Isaac Stephens was a left-handed hitter that could play first base.
“Isaac was our other coach,” Street said. “He would come down early. If we were working on something or something broke he’d be down there fixing stuff for us. He could hit, a power threat left-handed. And he had a good eye for the zone.
“He came early and stayed late, picked up trash. He put all the trash in the back of his truck and didn’t care to yell at people to help him out. … He was always one to go above and beyond.”
Gavin Cloutier was the starting center fielder after playing junior varsity as a junior. Street, who went on to start four years at Milligan, said he played JV as a junior at Science Hill.
“We had a full outfield last year, Gavin’s junior year, and he went with varsity a couple of times but was a JV guy,” Street said. “And he had a really good year on JV. … And I think he might’ve had the best fall out of anybody here. He really showed me what kind of kid he was and what kind of character he has. He had a good spring and he was our starting center fielder.
“A lot of guys would have quit or tried to make an excuse or blamed me and just hated me and quit playing baseball. But he loved it so much that he just made it a point to prove me wrong. If that was his motivation, I guess, good. I’ve been there. It’s terrible. It feels like the worst thing that could ever happen to ya. But I think we’re both probably better for it.”
Blaine Greer, a 6-foot-8, 300-pound lineman that has signed with Union, could hit a baseball a long way. Street said he’d taught Greer as early as fourth grade at Sulphur Springs, and worked with him in middle school sports. He could hit a fastball “to the moon.”
“When he lets loose it’s impressive,” Street said. “He was a horse. Kind of being there at the start of his sports career and there toward the end was really neat. We’ve got a good relationship. …
“He’s a big teddy bear. He’s goofy and fun to be around. A good heart, good kid.”
Holden Fannon figured to work a lot of innings on the mound this season.
“He would tell you he was an infielder that pitched, but he was a pitcher that we let take infield sometimes,” Street said. “And he knew it, and we joked about it. He took his pitching role head on. Holden was gonna be an innings-eater.”
Fannon’s buddy, left-handed Arien Lane, would’ve also pitched some for the Pioneers.
“He was a guy that came to us in January,” Street said. “I don’t think he played his sophomore or junior year and decided he wanted to come out. And he’s another one that worked. He got the most out of what he was capable of. He was happy to be there, and it showed.”
Street is still processing the season that wasn’t to be, and probably won’t ever completely digest the fact that his seniors didn’t get to go out on their own terms.
“They came to work and were eager to do whatever we threw at ‘em,” Street said, “even if it was running or some extra lifting or some kind of crazy challenge. They were a bunch of workers.”