FOXBOROUGH – The first object Tyler Schuster picked up as a baby? A baseball. His first word? “Ball.”
But as a teen, he never envisioned he would be holding a ball while wearing a Foxborough Post 93 uniform.
At 19, the 5-foot-10 right fielder from Sharon is now the oldest member of a 11-6 Foxborough team that has risen from near the league basement (6-15-1 in 2012).
Peter Guy , who grew up in Foxborough playing American Legion ball, says the Post 93 team he coaches originally designated Foxborough and Mansfield as its two towns to draw players from under an option called plan A.
But after a vote was cast during a district meeting to eliminate the plan, Mansfield was strategically chosen as the team’s base school under plan B, because of its size, which put parts of Sharon on his squad’s recruiting radar.
Schuster, who attends Clemson University, took the advice of his lifelong friend, and fellow Sharon resident, Mitchell Goldenberg , a former catcher for Post 93, and tried out for the team despite never having played summer Legion or AAU ball.
He was eligible to play for Canton based on where he lived, but he opted to join a team with hardly any familiar faces.
“Most people probably want to go play with their friends,” Schuster said. “But I kind of wanted to beat my friends and be better than them. I’ve always been a competitive kid and I like winning — especially when you’re beating someone you know.”
Schuster is not alone. Only three players on the Post 93 roster have ties to Foxborough High. The two captains, Adam Blake and Drew Briggs , are from Mansfield.
Shortstop Mike Slaby , a four-year player at Foxborough High who is headed to Lesley University this fall, is in his first year with Post 93. He said having players on the roster like Schuster and Colton Bader , a rising senior at Sharon High, is invaluable.
“There’s no way we’d be able to succeed with just one town of kids,” Slaby said.
With his strong right arm, Blake has made an impact both in the field (third base) and on the mound, where has compiled a 5-1 mark. Last Monday, he yielded just three hits and two unearned runs in a 2-1 loss to Westwood.
“He makes the routine plays look very easy,” Slaby said. “He does have some finesse, but he’s very aggressive. He really likes to charge the ball.”
Slaby has turned double plays with second baseman Tim O’Halloran , a high school teammate, in addition to Bader. Early on, there were growing pains, communication-wise, but that has improved.
Guy said that an overlooked perk to taking on players from successful neighboring programs is that young players who have not been able to crack the starting lineup for their high school programs have consistently proved their mettle in Legion ball.
“Evan Kershaw, a JV player in Mansfield, never saw the hill on the varsity game this year and has varsity stuff in my opinion,” Guy said.
“Zach Courier, the leftfielder too. Guys all the sudden, they play for us, they get some confidence.”
First baseman Justin Larose , a 16-year-old Mansfield resident, was also singled out by his coach as a player who belongs, despite suiting up with teammates two years his senior.
Guy said team chemistry exists off the field too, as they carpool and enjoy cookouts.
“There’s healthy competition, but there’s no animosity,” Guy said. “And that makes them better ball players.”
He likened the current Foxborough club to the one he grew up playing for, which filled its roster with players from multiple towns. Guy also said he believes that with players like Schuster acting as ambassadors, simply through playing well, he believes there will be more out-of-towners on his club in the future. Through Wednesday, Post 93 was third in the District 6 West Division standings behind Franklin (14-4) and Walpole (13-2-1).
Slaby, however, insists that his AAU coach, Chris Sullivan , coming off his first varsity season at Foxborough High, is grooming a younger generation for success.
Hockey moves at home plate
Angelina Avitabile , a rising junior at Quincy High who turns 16 on Monday, has always wanted to be a hockey goalie. So when the 5-foot-4 Avitabile is behind the plate, she tries to emulate former Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.
“I feel like when I catch, it’s kind of like I’m a goalie because I clean the dirt and block and catch with my glove,” said Avitabile, the starting catcher for the Braintree Blue Diamonds, a junior Olympic program.
“I did that before and then umpires kept asking me if I played hockey. They said, ‘You look like Tim Thomas when he used to play.’ ”
Coach Laura Leger said Avitabile’s nickname is “Tuukka” after Thomas’ successor, Tuukka Rask, because she uses athletic splits to make “saves” as a backstop.
Athleticism runs in her family. Her sister, Felicia, a Bridgewater State graduate, was the first girl to play football at Quincy High, as a 14-year-old in 2002.
Avitabile, who has caught every game for the 3-5 Blue Diamonds, has thrown out four runners in the last two tournaments, with shortstop Jess Oliveri making the tags.
Early out for softball squad
First-year coach Heather Sargent’s Southeast-Coastal softball squad did not win a game in the Bay State Games competition. The 0-5 team dropped a 5-4 game to Metro on Wednesday, leading to an early exit in the Bay State Softball Summer Games at Bentley College in Waltham. The Southeast and Coastal teams were combined this year for the first time due to lack of registration for the former.