Baseball had been ingrained in Nick Grathwohl’s younger life.
“Every morning before school I’d wake up, hit baseballs and then go to school, come home and do it all over again,” he said.
Grathwohl played middle school ball in seventh and eighth grades before taking two years off, something he now regrets.
Why did he go on sabbatical?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just didn’t play and it upset me because my whole family played baseball so I had to get back into it.”
The Southold High School junior is back in baseball, and the First Settlers can be grateful for that. Grathwohl is undoubtedly a help, and they need all the help they can get.
Southold returns the bulk of its 2018 playoff team, having graduated only two players, Billy Burns and Luke Hansen. Still, the work Class C Southold has ahead of it in Suffolk County League VIII is considerable. That means facing Class B teams like Babylon and Center Moriches.
Southold’s first four games have all been one-sided losses — two apiece to Pierson/Bridgehampton/Shelter Island and two to Babylon. Meanwhile, state Class B champion Center Moriches awaits. “We have a tough road ahead, so we got to play our best ball,” said senior shortstop Jake Okula.
Losses like the 21-7 shellacking Southold suffered to Babylon Tuesday at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic are tough to take.
“We’ve been hanging our head, especially after these four losses, but they are two tough teams,” Grathwohl said. “I mean, we should just keep our heads up because we got a tough schedule this year. It’s been hard but we all realize we are a team and we are going through this together.”
Okula, asked what is most important for his team now, said: “I think just staying positive for those games that we are going to be in. Right now we can’t just hang our heads because then we’re going to embarrass ourselves.”
Babylon (2-2, 2-0) gave Southold all it could handle and then some, with an 18-hit barrage. Leading that hit parade was Antonio Tufano, with a five-RBI game from 4-for-4 hitting. Justin Vega went 4-for-6 with two RBIs. Bobby Molinaro and Eric Trapani each had two RBIs and two hits. Gino Vano and Aidan Brown also drove in two runs apiece.
Babylon drew 11 walks. Ten Panthers had at least one hit.
“There were plenty of times when our pitchers made good pitches and they just hit the ball,” said Southold coach Greg Tulley.
The undoubted highlight for Southold, though, was Grathwohl’s first career home run. After two walks and a fielder’s choice loaded the bases in the fifth inning, Brendan Duffy brought home a run with a sacrifice fly. That set the stage for Grathwohl, the designated hitter who zeroed in on a first-pitch high fastball that he smashed over the leftfield fence. The three-run shot, estimated at around 330 feet, cut the Babylon lead to 12-6.
“I hit it in the sweet spot,” Grathwohl said. “I did not think it was a home run but then, like after I rounded first, I’m like, ‘That’s got to be gone.’ And you just hear the crowd going crazy, and it felt great.”
Okula (2-for-3) said: “That was a shot. Hopefully we’ll see some more. This is like a real park. This is like a mini-Yankee Stadium. That was cool to see him put one out.”
What does Tulley want to see from his players?
“Especially in a game like today, just not hanging your head, just keep putting the effort in, keep grinding, having good at-bats, making the plays in the field,” he said.
Okula said: “We have the talent. It’s just a matter of is it all going to come together? We knew that today we had a bit of a challenge ahead of us.”
Grathwohl sounds ready for the challenges to come.
“Every day is a new day, so you should never count yourself out of a game,” he said. “You always want to be in it.”
Take that from a guy who is happy to be back in the game. He said, “It feels good to be back.”
Photo caption: Southold junior Nick Grathwohl, who was out of baseball the last two years, blasted his first career home run, good for three runs. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)