May 20, 2011
Like everything else about their final season together, Air Force's senior baseball players figured a photo shoot was a chance to have as much fun as possible.
Every suggested pose was met with some inside joke and a round of laughs. Every quick break between pictures was an opportunity to try goofy poses, like what you’d see on 1960s baseball cards, with each guy trying to get the other four to double over in laughter.
“Like we’re friends, come on,” first baseman/catcher Parker Mayo said as they got serious for one of the shots.
There wasn’t much acting involved. The five Falcons seniors and close friends enjoyed every bit of their senior seasons, especially since four of them figured they were done with baseball forever.
Outfielder Nathan Carter was the only one of the five to play last year. The four who sat out their junior years each have a different way of saying why they left, but every reason boiled down to not having any fun playing baseball.
“Not at all,” infielder Jon McMahon said. “None.”
By the time they were done with their sophomore years, the coaching staff’s management style had rubbed many players the wrong way.
“I didn’t get along with coach (Mike) Hutcheon and decided it wasn’t fun anymore,” Vai Schierholtz said. “I figured I’d focus on the academy.”
Then Hutcheon resigned and Maj. Mike Kazlausky was asked to run the team. Kazlausky was an assistant and had recruited the seniors, so they knew about his positive energy.
Mayo and pitcher Brad Pingel asked Kazlausky in the fall if they could come back.
“He said ‘You guys are going to have to work and you’re going to have to earn your spot. We’re not going to give you anything, but you’ll have an opportunity,’” Mayo said.
McMahon and Schierholtz were both squadron commanders in the fall and busy with academy life. Still, when injuries hit in spring, Kazlausky asked them if they could come back to the team.
“What I told them is, ‘This is something you’ll regret. This is an opportunity, this is your second chance to come back and do something special,’” Kazlausky said.
McMahon and Schierholtz agreed. Carter went from hearing jokes last season about how he’d be the only player at Senior Day to having four of his best friends around again. And he set the NCAA Division I career record for triples in the process.
“These are the guys I came in freshman year with,” Carter said. “It’s great to have my friends back.”
Even though the Falcons didn’t have a great record this season, the five seniors loved playing baseball again. Pingel said he was told at the end of his sophomore year that he probably wouldn’t play much going forward and was given the opportunity to leave the program, which he said was a “weird separation.” He wanted to finish his career on a positive note.
“You have no regrets now,” Pingel said. “I won’t look back in 20, 30 years saying ‘I wish I could have played one more inning.’ Now it’ll be, close the page and move onto my next thing.”
“It’s been a blast,” McMahon said. “It’s been an absolute dream. I walked out of here after my sophomore year with a really bad taste in my mouth for baseball.”
The only bad part for the players is their senior year went by so fast.
“It is a little bittersweet we won’t get to play anymore, but the best part is we got to have a great senior year and end on the right way,” Mayo said. “There’s no better way to end my time being able to play competitive baseball again than to be with these guys, this team and this coaching staff.”