Meet Mark Eckard, the Delone Catholic baseball team's unknown spark.
No, he hasn't thrown a single pitch, taken an at-bat or run the bases. Eckard only attended classes at Delone his freshman year -- eight years ago. But Squires baseball coach Alan Felix credits Eckard's preseason speech for bringing his team together.
"It was somebody else's voice saying the right things," Felix said. "His message was really correlated to what we were trying to do, which was win the district championship."
The Squires did that last Thursday and won their PIAA Class AA first-round game Monday, 13-4, against Prep Charter. Three wins from a state title, they play Thursday against Loyalsock.
But there's one more thing about Eckard. Because of weakness on his right side from birth, he didn't play a sport in high school after playing basketball and soccer at the youth levels.
Felix, though, made him his baseball manager.
"I just liked his spirit," Felix said. "I try to find managers that love the game."
Eckard transferred to Winters Mill High School in Westminster, Md., for his sophomore year and was hooked on sports. He was manager for the basketball team his junior season, when it won a state title.
He then became an assistant basketball and football coach at Salisbury University, analyzing opposing teams' tendencies on film and making sure practice ran on time. Eckard might not have a future playing sports, but he found a potential career. He is an assistant coach on the Winters Mill football team after graduating from Salisbury a few weeks ago.
"I love sports," he said. "When I was given the opportunity (from Felix), that was an opportunity I wasn't going to pass up. I wanted to be around any sport, just to be able to learn the nuances of the game and the different strategies in the game.
"I credit coach Felix for getting me started in managing and getting me that first push to get started."
Eckard inspired the Salisbury football team, which went 9-3 but lost in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament last season. In a meeting at the start of the season, someone asked the players to raise their hands if they thought a conference championship was possible. The players' hands shot up.
He noticed a few hands, those belonging to the support staff, weren't raised. Eckard implored them to do so, saying that everyone needed to believe for the team to have success.
That also was the crux of his speech to the Squires. And they've adopted it, using "hands up" as their motto.
"He brought us together," Squires senior Austin Buckley said. "He got us thinking the same thing. That pretty much let us know we could do it, we could make it this far. Everybody's in this together."
firstname.lastname@example.org, 637-3736 ext. 139; Twitter: @DanielPaulling
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