Spartan baseball team a diamond in the rough



Apparently I made Stafford High School baseball history on my first visit to the school March 29.

At the invitation of Michael Sudhalter, my predecessor here at the Star, who is now the communication director for the school district, I got to be the honorary team captain for the Spartans as they took on the Needville Blue Jays. I thus became the first person in school history to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

It was an incredible honor to do that. I was even more honored to meet coach Michael Mesa and his team. They’re a great bunch of guys. This is a team that is better in many ways than their 3-9-2 record indicates. Even though Needville won the game 10-6, they were close until the sixth inning when some errors led to Blue Jay runs.

Helping keep his team in the game was senior pitcher Lance Byron, the team’s ace on the mound.

“All year long he’s kept us in every game he’s pitched,” Mesa said.

Byron is committed to playing ball for the Panthers next year at Prairie View A&M University. He is also an Eagle Scout, which tells me he is a leader off the field as well as on.

“Baseball is the very first sport that I played,” he said.

He told me he grew up watching the Houston Astros, where he got a lot of his inspiration. In the short time I got to spend with Byron and his teammates, I became impressed with his work ethic and the wisdom he possesses for such a young man. Sudhalter asked him if being in extracurricular activities helped him in school. He said it does, but more so it helps him in life.

Lance Byron

Lance Byron

Stafford MSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Bostic (another fellow Eagle Scout) told me that Byron loves working with children and wants to get into psychology.

“Lance is an exemplary student who has shown an amazing ability of balancing academics, athletics and extracurriculars. He’s an outstanding peer to his classmates, and an excellent role model to our underclassmen. I’m very proud that Lance is a fellow Eagle Scout,” Bostic said.

Coach Mesa said he is impressed by Byron’s athletic skills.

“When he’s on the mound, it’s going to be a good game,” he said.

Mesa is also high on catcher Anthony Montilva as an athlete and team leader.

“We’ve got a bunch of good kids and that helps a lot,” he said.

Even though the team is struggling this year, Mesa said he feels the program is on the right track. With a little time and maturity, the Spartans will become the proverbial force to contend with. This is his second year leading the team he once played for. He graduated from Stafford High in 2008 where he was a four-year starter.

“I always knew I wanted to teach and coach,” he said.

He played some college ball and returned to his alma mater to do his student teaching and was later hired as a teacher and coach.

I have a deep respect for people who return to their hometown to engage in their profession, especially teachers. They bring not only a passion for their occupation but a great deal of pride and commitment to the school and a knowledge and love of the people they work with and for. They have a perspective of and commitment to the school that a transplant could never have. They have a pride and a drive to succeed that is probably a notch or two above the average teacher.

I see that in the workplace as well. Hometown business professionals are some of the most inspired, community-conscious and committed people there are. They say that home is where the heart is. I say heart is where the home is. When you know and love the people of your community, you’re going to be more dedicated and committed to making a better life. That’s just human nature.

Last week we ran a story written by Sudhalter about the high number of alums who have returned to work in the Stafford MSD. To have nine people return to the district is amazing. It speaks well of the district and the community. It bodes well for the students who can be confident they are being taught by caring professionals who are dedicated to their success.

That’s not to say that transplants can’t be just as dedicated and capable. It’s just that there is something about being a native that gives you a little more pride and a certain motivation and edge in what you do.

I’ve worked at numerous newspapers in three states. I’ve been most comfortable and most successful at my hometown newspaper, the Longmont (Colo.) Daily Times-Call. That doesn’t mean I’m not dedicated to my job here or providing less of an effort. It means I had a lifelong history there and an understanding of the people and culture that I don’t have here. This is my home now and I’m committed to doing the very best I can. I hope it shows in what I do.

Growing up in Colorado in the days before the Rockies, I really didn’t care much about baseball. I moved to Minnesota in 1987 and attended my first Major League game. The Minnesota Twins beat the Oakland A’s and went on to win the World Series. Playing for the Twins was Gary Gaetti, who is now the manager of the Sugar Land Skeeters. I finally got to meet him the other day, but that is a story for another column.

In the meantime, the Stafford Spartans baseball team has collected another fan. I look forward to great things to come for the team. I wish Coach Mesa and his boys all the best. I also look for great things from the Prairie View Panthers next year. They’ve got a great one coming in Lance Byron.

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