The Shot Heard Round the World
For most Miller School of Albemarle students, the phrase “the shot heard round the world” brings back memories of Mr. Riddick’s history lecture about the 1775 clash between the British and the Americans, and the poem it inspired. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn" famously refers to the opening salvo of the American revolution as “the shot heard round the world." For MSA baseball fans, however, Emerson’s phrase conjures up something different. In baseball, “the shot heard round the world” refers to a 1951 three-run, game-winning home run hit by New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson in the bottom of the ninth inning. Thomson’s homer won the Giants the National League pennant in a dramatic 3-game playoff series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The magical moment of the Giants snatching victory from defeat has become widely known as one of baseball’s greatest moments.
On a warm Friday afternoon at Shepherd Field in Colonial Heights, the Mavericks baseball team put on an even more impressive magic show than the Giant’s “shot heard round the world.” In the semifinal game of the State Championship tournament, the Mavericks were down 10-1 in the top of the 5th inning (of a seven-inning game). Statistically, the team had less than a .11% chance of winning the game and advancing to the championship final. However, when all seemed lost, and Coach Billy Wagner was getting ready to clear the bench for seniors to get in the game, magic happened. Garrett Payne walked up to the plate and hit a single home run that sparked an unbelievable nine-run, game-tying rally by the Mavericks. “I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I’ve seen a lot of baseball,” remarked Coach Wagner after the game. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the team defied the odds and defeated the Steward Spartans 15-12. They went on to win their third consecutive VISAA State Championship the next day.
This remarkable comeback may have seemed like a magic trick, but if you look at the MSA baseball program as a whole, it quickly becomes clear that no sleight-of-hand was involved. Rather, the thrilling semifinal victory and subsequent state championship victory were the result of a baseball program founded on grit, intense training, excellent coaching, and unrivaled team camaraderie.
The MSA baseball team is coached by the legendary Major League pitcher Billy Wagner. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest relief pitchers in MLB history, and his 100-mile-per-hour fastball was feared by every hitter who stepped up to the plate. Coach Wagner has utilized his experience as a player to become one of the most revered coaches in high school baseball. He inspires his athletes to chase their dreams in the sport, and, at the same time, to develop character and grit that will lead to success in life, as well as on the baseball diamond.
Coach Wagner said: “What we talk about is consistency. The consistency and the process—doing that little half percent better every day. You are not going to reach perfection, but chasing excellence is that commitment to your craft that you hope is going to pay off down the road.”
This “little half percent better every day” adds up in the lives of MSA baseball players, and produces remarkable outcomes. The team has won three consecutive VISAA State Championship titles, and it sends a steady number of players to Division 1 college teams each fall.
Additionally, two MSA alumni were drafted to the Major Leagues in the summer of 2019. Tanner Morris (‘17) and Connor Gillispie (‘17) both signed Major League contracts and begin their professional baseball careers with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles respectively. Tanner Morris played two seasons for the University of Virginia, and Connor Gillispie played two seasons for Virginia Commonwealth University.
Whether moving up to the Major Leagues or working out in the gym, MSA baseball players understand that success is built on hard work and determination.
Coach Wagner commented: “The goal for a coach is to teach the athlete how to coach himself. The desire, the heart, the fight, the grit that’s going to make a player go to the weight room and run the extra sprint must come from within each player. Baseball at MSA is about accountability. My little footprint in the lives of players is showing them how to walk the right direction.”
For MSA baseball players, following the lead of their coach and walking the right direction has led to success after success for them as players, students, and people. And that’s the magic of the MSA baseball team.