Baseball is a game that many fathers introduce to their sons. At the first sight of their boys, baseball fathers hear the pop of the mitt, daydream that their sons may be switch hitters, or envision them wearing the Yankee pinstripes or the Braves tomahawk.
U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall reminds us of the bloodline of baseball in his essay, Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: “Baseball is fathers and sons. Baseball is the generations, looping backward forever. Baseball is fathers and sons playing catch, lazy and murderous, wild and controlled, the profound archaic song of birth, growth, age, and death. This diamond encloses what we are.”
Bradwell Institute senior Evan Crystal certainly exemplifies a life that the diamond has enclosed. Crystal plays on the same field where his father, Wes, was a standout for the Tigers in the mid-90s. Evan is the son of Wes and Chrissy Crystal. His brother, Allen, will be a promising freshman for Long County next season.
“He was a great leader both on and off the field,” Jeff Polk, Bradwell Institute head baseball coach, said. “He is always continuing to better himself, whether it be on the field or in the classroom. He always had a ‘team first’ mentality. He worked very hard in the weight room to prepare physically, which exemplifies his worth ethic as a student athlete.”
Since Liberty County middle schools do not offer baseball, Crystal started playing junior varsity with the Tigers program in eighth grade.
“I began playing summer ball with a local team from Hinesville,” Crystal said. “One of the biggest changes that I noticed in my game was how I approached certain situations. For instance, during an at bat I wouldn’t go chasing after a pitch. I would think to myself, ‘This pitcher has to throw me a strike, so the pressure is on him.’ This was different from my freshmen year. I would have to say that it had a lot to do with growing up or maturing within the game.”
The approach Crystal takes to his game epitomizes his commitment as a scholar. With his weighted 3.9 GPA and fascination for math and science, one can see that a combination of an analytical mental approach with athletic ability equals great output in the classroom and at the plate. He came into high school as a pitching prospect but over time proved that he also had prowess in the outfield. He has been a ball hawk, tracking down any ball hit, and he can gun down runners at any base with a frozen rope with a flick of the wrist. In the tradition of pitchers, Crystal has a fantasy match-up with a certain hitter in the box: his father. Just like Hall reminds us, baseball is a game of fathers and sons.
“I would want to pitch to my dad when he was a senior in high school,” Crystal said. “I would probably throw him off speed because he always tells me that he tried to hit a home run every time he went up to bat.”
The summer between his sophomore and junior years, Crystal had an opportunity to play with a travel ball team out of Albany. He was already developing into a strong player and student of the game, but playing with that summer team made him a better player, a better leader, and an impact player for Bradwell.
“I would have to say that I wouldn’t be the player I am today unless I would have played summer ball,” Crystal said. “Playing with Team Elite definitely helped me in seeing better competition and forced me to have to ‘play up’ each and every game.”
Learning to play up was valuable because the Tigers are in a tough baseball region with Effingham, Richmond Hill, Camden, Glynn Academy, and Brunswick. Being the leader he is, Crystal tries to pass down what he knows and help younger players develop what it takes to play up all the time.
“I would tell the young bucks that the only way to get better than the other teams in the region is to put in work,” Crystal said. “Baseball is a sport that requires so many repetitions at every practice. Living in a county that doesn’t have middle school baseball already puts us three years behind, so in order to compete, these kids need to step up their game.”
Four successful years at Bradwell on the diamond and in the classroom will give Crystal a chance to keep playing the game he loves while studying for a career in the health profession at Augusta University.
“I’m grateful that I have the chance to play at the collegiate level,” Crystal said. “I will remember the bus rides with my teammates. We had some comedians on our team, and we didn’t always get along, but it was like the relationship between brothers. They made it fun and exciting at times.”
A Life Enclosed by the Diamond
By W. John Wood