On the outside, Shamiaz Elsey looked like any other ballplayer as the Snow Hill Eagles’ baseball team prepared to take on the Mardela Warriors.
His uniform was ironed, he carried his bat and glove in his hands and the cleats on Elsey’s feet were covered with dirt from the field.
But on the inside, nothing was normal for the Snow Hill junior. His heart was heavy and his emotions were through the roof as he attempted to hold back tears.
It was the start of a new week for the Eagles, as they traveled to Mardela on Monday afternoon. Snow Hill was looking for its third consecutive win, but the only thing going through Elsey’s mind was what had happened just 48 hours earlier.
On April 7, Elsey had been out with friends when he received the call that changed his life.
His father, Ralph L. Elsey III, 40, had died at his home in Snow Hill, leaving behind five children.
When he heard the news, the Eagles’ junior raced home, not sure how to process what had just happened.
For Shamiaz Elsey, his father was everything.
“He taught me how to grow up and be a man,” Shamiaz Elsey said. “He would have wanted me to stay strong for my mom and my little brother. He wanted me to keep going. I was shocked, and I didn’t cry at first. When I got there, I didn’t know what was happening — he was just gone.”
Ralph Elsey was a constant support system for his son — especially when the Snow Hill baseball season rolled around.
Almost every game, the father of the Eagles’ first baseman would be stationed by the fence, shouting and cheering for his favorite team.
“You always knew he was there,” Snow Hill head coach Todd Lampman said with a chuckle. “You’d hear and go, ‘There’s Ralph!’ He was a great guy to have around.”
As Shamiaz Elsey and the rest of his family mourned the loss, the junior had a decision to make: Would he take the field for the Eagles’ Monday contest?
Wanting to take his mind away from everything that happened, Shamiaz Elsey opted to make the trip to Mardela, knowing the contest itself could be crucial to the team’s spot in the standings.
As he warmed up like he would for any game, several teammates approached the first baseman offering their condolences and support. Having such a tight bond with one another, Lampman wasn’t surprised to see his squad rally around the junior.
“They’re always there for Shamiaz, and Shamiaz needs them,” Lampman said. “It’s just a mutual feeling of, ‘Hey, we got you. If you need us, we’re here.’ This is an escape for him. They’re as amazed by his strength as any of us. They’re feeding off of him as much as he’s feeding off of the them.”
Playing the game for Ralph Elsey, Snow Hill took the field, hoping to get a victory for the entire family.
At the time, Mardela held a 4-2 overall record and had put up double-digit scoring in their last two contests. After a slow start to the season, Snow Hill had made up some ground in the Bayside Conference standings, but would need a strong showing against the Warriors.
As the game played out, Mardela got its bats going, ultimately taking a 7-4 lead late in the game. When the seventh inning rolled around, the Warriors were just three outs away from another conference win.
But Snow Hill wouldn’t go down easy. Despite two outs on the board, the Eagles loaded the bases with the leading run coming to the plate.
That batter was Shamiaz Elsey.
Knowing what he had to do, the junior walked into the batter’s box and stared down Mardela’s pitcher. But before he took a swing, Shamiaz Elsey heard a voice speak to him.
It was his father.
“I was in a daze at first,” Shamiaz Elsey said. “My dad started talking to me. He told me to swing it hard, square it up, and something good would happen to me. I just listened to what he said.”
Before a pitch was thrown, Mardela’s catcher called time, allowing Shamiaz Elsey to step out of the batter’s box. Feeling his father with him, the Snow Hill batter started laughing, practically knowing exactly what was about to happen.
As the game resumed, Shamiaz Elsey waited for the first pitch, swung with all his power, and watched as the ball sailed over the Mardela fences for a grand slam.
Now leading 8-7, Shamiaz Elsey was officially a hero.