There were several reasons why Tommy Doherty’s fifth-inning hit Tuesday proved so memorable for Doherty, his teammates, his coaches and the few dozen fans who dotted the hill at Clarkstown South High School. Only some of those reasons had something to do with baseball, Doherty’s sport, but they provided further evidence of an underrated aspect of high school athletics.
Every season — pick the sport — there are hundreds more Tommy Dohertys than Frank Vesuvios or George Kirbys. The majority of us will never know the feeling of the four-hit game or the dominant shutout. They are exploits usually reserved for the star player, but moments hidden deep in almost every game will become unforgettable to someone.
Tommy Dohertys are everywhere, every day.
If you missed Doherty’s story, here’s a quick recap: The Clarkstown South student worked his tail off to rise from team manager to a certified member of the varsity as a senior. On Tuesday, in a lopsided 15-4 win over Clarkstown North, Doherty had an opportunity to pinch hit in the fifth inning. He worked a 3-and-2 count and then laced a high fastball to right-center for a two-run double.
Doherty’s hit was his first ever as a varsity player. Who knows if there will be another.
This one occurred at quite a moment personally: Not only did South celebrate its seniors Tuesday, the team saluted Doherty’s mom, Tina, during the ceremony. She died in February of cancer, and the players released pink balloons in her honor from the pitcher’s mound after the game.
Most athletes will never be forced to encounter the rush of contrasting emotions like Doherty, whose memory of the moment will no doubt be sharpened by the postgame tribute to his mom. But the hit itself can stand as an example of the power of high school sports for the majority of us.
For the athletes who will never score 30 points and rush for three touchdowns, their first basket or first reception — or their first really good one — can carry great resonance. Years later, they will probably recall them with the detail of a professional golfer reciting his or her round shot by shot.
I know because I remember my own. (First varsity basket? At Mahopac’s old gym. First hit? At John Jay-East Fishkill.) I also hear yellowed memories told in great detail by many of you while out on assignment at one school or another, stories told by 20-somethings to gray-haired with the vivid detail of a literary titan.
There are definitely a few moments remembered by many — for me, Khalil Edney’s shot at the County Center, Connor Eck’s drive against Harrison, Dan Zlotnick’s no-hitter in the sectional final — but so exponentially more are precious to just a few. But they are precious nonetheless.
Doherty’s double on Tuesday didn’t win Clarkstown South a championship or even a game. His teammates had long taken care of that, giving Doherty his opportunity to shine. What the hit did accomplish was to remind us that high school athletes don’t need to star or even win to feel special. It can be a hit in the fifth inning or the last 3-pointer in a soon-forgotten loss that will be remembered, too.