If you happened to walk by Ken Geiser these days, he wouldn’t fault you for not recognizing him.
After all, the George Washington baseball coach and athletic director looks a little bit different than he normally does. Now, he has the look of a champion.
Let Geiser explain.
“Back on November 5, we were hitting in the cages, and (senior third baseman) Scott Siley tells me that if we win the Public League championship, I had to shave my head into a Mohawk,” Geiser said by phone on Wednesday morning. “I agreed.”
Wednesday was the day after Geiser, Siley and company had completed their championship run on the diamond, winning Tuesday’s Public League title in a 3-2 nail-biter over division rival Franklin Towne Charter. While it was Towne’s second consecutive appearance in the championship contest, it was Washington’s first time back there since 1999, and the Eagles’ first title since 1995.
Geiser, who was part of Washington’s first league championship team as a player back in 1978, was still soaking it in — as well as getting used to his new hairstyle — a day after it was official.
How does he look, a reporter asked him?
“I look like an old man with a Mohawk,” he deadpanned.
While his head may look temporarily absurd, it’s all been worth it for a talented group of baseball players, many of whom thought they had what it took to be on this stage in 2013, before Frankford surprised Washington in the Class AAAA title game en route to the Pioneers’ third straight title.
Now, there’s a new kid on the block; or, better yet, an old, familiar face that has reclaimed its seat atop the baseball throne.
Like any championship team, there were tons of contributors and heroes: senior ace pitcher Roger Hanson, Division A’s MVP, who gritted his way through the title game despite uncharacteristic control problems (Hanson walked six, stacked against nine strikeouts); there was the constant timely hitting of Siley, who knocked in the deciding run on a triple in the top of the third, as well as junior first baseman Ishmael Bracy, who knocked in the other two in a season full of clutch hits in his first season after transferring from Southern; centerfielder and four-year player John Santos, whom Geiser relied heavily on atop his potent lineup; outfielder Pat Farrell, who batted over .500 out of the nine-hole; reserve Melvin Vargas, who came up huge in the batter’s box and in right field in Washington’s 9-8 Class AAAA win over Central, filling in for a suspended Farrell; and Eddie Tingle, the only sophomore on the roster who provided solid protection for Siley and Bracy in the order and used adrenaline and guts on the mound to outlast the Lancers in that game. Catcher Chase Alexander and second baseman Joel Goldberg were reliable both offensively and defensively. Volunteer assistants Craig Sharp and Jim O’Hara rarely missed a day.
“When you’re a kid, you’re excited to be a part of a championship team,” Geiser said, recalling his days as a player decades ago. “Now, I can see them enjoy it, which is what it’s all about. I won it many years ago, and it’s still a fraternity, still a family. It’s a great feeling, and I told them a few weeks ago that if you win a Public League title, no one can ever take that away from you.”
Geiser had to sweat through this one, and, as he said later, “Nothing with us is ever easy.” Washington struck in their first at-bat, with Santos doubling to lead off the game and eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly by Bracy. Towne used a one-out triple by shortstop Rob Henry and sac fly by pitcher Steve Callahan to tie the score the next half-inning.
The game remained 1-1 until Farrell doubled to lead off the third. He came around to score on a single by Bracy, who in turn scored on Siley’s deep opposite-field triple to right. Towne got one back when Hanson walked four of the first five batters he faced in the bottom of the third, with sophomore first baseman Zack Beltran drawing an RBI free pass. But just when it seemed like Hanson was losing control, a mound visit from Geiser settled him down, and he induced an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play off the bat of catcher Chris Hammerstein.
After he struck Beltran and Hammerstein out to lead off the sixth, Hanson was greeted by three straight singles from Towne’s 6-7-8 hitters, Fred Courduff, Phil Gilchrist and Matt Schlernitzauer, to load the bases. Again in trouble, Hanson again danced his way out of it, striking out Ray Lopez to end the threat. He retired the final three outs in order to finish the game.
“When I went out there to talk to Roger in the third, I didn’t know what to expect, because normally he doesn’t walk guys,” Geiser recounted. “We weren’t sure if he was there mentally, or if we were going to have to take him out. I told him if he wanted to stay in, he had to pitch, and he did. He got us through the game.”
Hanson went the distance, scattering six hits and two runs to go along with the six walks and nine K’s; his counterpart, Callahan, was nearly as good, going seven innings while surrendering six hits and three runs. Towne’s junior ace pitcher and best player struck out four and walked three. Hanson got Callahan to ground out to short to end the game.
“That was a phenomenal game, and both pitchers threw phenomenally,” Towne head coach Chris Lauber said. “It was an excellent game, and we just came up one run short. I think 100 percent that Roger and Steve are the hearts and souls of their teams, and I don’t think anyone would deny that. They both put their teams in a perfect position to win. When Roger needed to, he rose to the occasion. Steve did the exact same thing. Luckily, Steve is a junior, so he’s got another year to grow with me; Roger is moving on, but for a young man to do what he did, he’s just incredible.”
It was the ultimate sign of respect from Lauber, whose team’s only two league losses this season were to Washington (Hanson also blanked them in a 3-0, one-hit shutout in the regular season where he struck out 12). Towne still won the division, but it was the Eagles that claimed the ultimate prize.
Lauber and his team were disappointed, sure, especially after departing this game as the losing team for the second consecutive year. But they were much better from top to bottom in 2014 than they were the year before, when they started 1-6 and arrived in the title game on the heels of an 11-game win streak. Towne and Washington were the league’s top teams from the jump, and it stayed that way throughout.
“It’s hard to lose it having been there twice,” said Lauber, who was an assistant on last year’s team and took over as head coach on March 27 when longtime head coach Kyle Riley stepped down due to personal reasons. “But I think these guys realize the future we have, and it’s bright. They’re definitely confident. There’s a sense of sadness and disappointment, sure, but they’re already excited. They’ve been texting me pictures of them from the weight room saying that the road back starts now.”
Lauber will lose Hammerstein behind the plate, leadoff hitter/third baseman Brian Bradley, second baseman Lopez and valuable pinch-runner/utilityman Ryan Boyd to graduation, but besides that, nearly everyone is back.
Callahan, a born leader, tops that list, and it’s safe to say nobody will be more determined to make sure the third time’s a charm in 2015 than him. Beltran has been the team’s cleanup hitter and first baseman since he was a freshman, and outfielders Gilchrist, Courduff and Schlernitzauer all came into their own. Henry is already a dynamic talent as a freshman, while sophomore Christian Diaz and freshman Eric Sanchez made solid contributions on the mound. Freshman Jason Santiago is expected to take over for Hammerstein behind the plate.
“I told them to remember it, never forget it,” Lauber said. “That particular feeling of losing, never let it get away, because it will be their main driving force. It’s a terrible feeling and it hurts; they might not learn from it today or tomorrow, but they will find the positive lessons and motivations to move on.
“I couldn’t be more excited to have a full offseason to prepare myself as the head coach, as well as a full offseason to prep them as champions. They’re excited. I’m excited. I couldn’t ask to be in a better position going into my second year. We have two or three gaps to fill, but if we aren’t a top contender next year, then something went drastically wrong.”
For now, it was Washington’s time, and Geiser is loving every second of it, bad haircut and all.
“There’s some real talent in the Public League, and I hope people see that,” he said. “Baseball is fun. It’s a great sport. You practice indoors in the cold and rain and I tell the kids it will pay off sometime for you, and now they see that it did. It’s a matter of putting in the time to where you see the results. Here’s what happens when you work hard: you succeed. It’s a life lesson. They worked hard, and they found their success. Who knows about what will happen tomorrow or Monday … we’ll worry about that when it comes. For now, we’re just enjoying this.”