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Baseball: It’s Signing Day at Waccamaw Intermediate
By Charles Swenson
They brought jerseys, caps and baseballs. Some had paper. Some used their ID badges. When those were filled with autographs, they offered up arms and foreheads to the marking pens in the hands of two members of the College World Series champions.
Austin Kitchen, a pitcher, and Peyton Isaacson, a catcher, from the Coastal Carolina University baseball team, spent the lunch hour last week with students at Waccamaw Intermediate School. It was Teal Day at the school, a build up to this week’s Color Run benefit.
Principal Tim Carnahan gave the players a little coaching before the first batch of sixth-graders arrived in the cafeteria. “Be yourselves,” he said.
Kitchen, a left-hander, and Isaacson started out cautiously with high-fives and fist bumps. The students lined up with items for the players to sign. Kitchen was at a school in North Myrtle Beach for National Literacy Day so he knew the drill. It didn’t take the players or the kids long to warm to the occasion.
Kids packed around the players, some for second and third helpings of autographs. There were hugs. One girl asked Isaacson for his phone number. He debated with himself before telling her the actual numer. “She was a sweetheart,” he said.
During each lunch shift, students wearing the most teal got a chance to complete with the players in a pitching contest. Carnahan provided a target and a speed gun. The students each took a turn throwing a perforated yellow ball at the painted plastic catcher.
Kitchen was a freshman All-American who had 36 strikeouts in 42 innings. Isaacson set three school pitching records in Gaylesburg, Ill. Both looked nervous as the gun ticked off speeds of 60, 70 and 90 during the kids’ turn. Only after Isaacson fired off a pitch at 139 did he realize the gun was set to kilometers instead of miles per hour.
There was a gift certificate for pizza for the student who could beat the champions. The sixth-graders left the cafeteria empty-handed. Not Blake Noah. The fifth-grader clocked a throw at 90. Carnahan suggested the gun had followed Kitchen and Isaacson as they threw rather than the ball when they released it, but he paid up.
“I haven’t thrown in a while,” said Blake, a right-hander. He learned to pitch from his dad, he said.
The players barely got time to eat the lunch that was donated for the occasion by Quigley’s. The autography frenzy seemed to build with each new class. Some fifth-graders wanted their socks autographed.
Chris Carter, director of operations for Coastal’s baseball team watched from a seat by the cafeteria windows. “This is who they are,” he said as his players bent over their Sharpies in the crowd.
The players don’t get lessons in public appearances. They’re naturally personable and humble. “That’s a big part of why we did what we did,” Carter said.
Fans at the World Series in Omaha made the Chanticleers the local favorites. “You’re rock stars out there,” Carter said. But the sense of celebrity that follows the title didn’t sink in until the team arrived at the Myrtle Beach airport to find 5,000 people waiting to cheer their return.
Morgan Hinkleman, a sixth-grader, watched the College World Series with her family. It was exciting when Coastal Carolina won with a strikeout in the final inning. “We had a big party,” she said.
Morgan wasn’t sure who Kitchen and Isaacson were although they signed the back of her jersey. She planned to look them up on the roster. As for the jersey, “I’ll probably have it framed,” Morgan said.
She could have returned the favor. Outside of school she has a recurring role in the AMC television series “Halt and Catch Fire.” She was in this spring’s Melissa McCarthy comedy “The Boss” and finished a film with Tom Cruise due for release next year. Like the players, she wears her celebrity lightly. As Carter said, “It’s just who they are.”
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