As he circled the bases Tuesday afternoon at College Park, Jonathan Sabo could barely see for the tears streaming down his face.
When he touched home plate, Sabo looked to the sky to acknowledge his grandfather, Frank Sabo, who died a few days earlier.
Tearful teammates gathered at the plate to congratulate and embrace their fellow East Coast Baseball Academy player. They knew the significance of the line drive that landed just over the left-field wall. Sabo’s father, Timothy, met him at the gate to the field for a heart-felt embrace. Someone retrieved the baseball and gave it to Sabo, who on the ride home inscribed it: “To The Best Grandfather Ever.”
The 16-year-old West Ashley High School student was close to his grandfather, who died Saturday at the age of 83 and was buried Wednesday. They lived under the same roof and often talked baseball. One of their conversations took place shortly before Frank Sabo’s death.
“He was asking me when my next tournament was,” Jonathan Sabo said. “Then he said, ‘How about a home run?’ I told him I didn’t know if I could do that. We were playing on a minor league field. I’m not that big. He said, ‘Well, try for me.’ ”
Sabo, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 150 pounds, normally plays for the East Coast Baseball Academy’s 16U team for players 16-years-old and under. But he was brought up to the 18U team for the Continental Amateur Baseball Association Wooden Bat World Series at College Park, the downtown ballpark used by The Citadel and Charleston’s minor league team before Riley Park was built.
Sabo didn’t get a hit the first two games of the tournament and was getting frustrated, but at Tuesday’s game he led off with a double.
In his next at-bat, he worked the count to 3 balls and 2 strikes. Sabo said a weird feeling came over him and he stepped out of the batter’s box to settle himself. His next memory was rounding first base and realizing he had hit a home run with two teammates on to give East Coast a 5-0 lead. It was East Coast’s only home run in the tournament.
“I don’t remember hitting it,” Sabo said. “It went right down the line in left field. I started crying as I was running around the bases. I touched home plate and looked up at the sky. My teammates were there. We all broke out crying.”
The East Coast team wore its black uniforms for the game to honor Sabo’s grandfather. East Coast coach Randy Carlson said Sabo had expressed doubts about hitting a home run because of the wooden bats and the size of the field.
“In wood-bat tournaments, you don’t see a bunch of balls hit out of the yard. They’re pretty scarce. When he hit it the only doubt was whether it would stay fair.” Carlson said.
“I kind of think his grandpa was up there helping him out a little bit. You usually see that ball hook foul. It was something else, pretty neat.”