Lives and people may change as the years progress, but the memories that define us often never do. And for the 13U Carolina Cobras travel baseball team, one pre-game pep talk in particular will likely linger for a lifetime.
“The coaches told the kids that we were not leaving Concord without bringing home a championship ring,” said Andy Quick, one of the Carolina Cobras coaches who dedicates more than just his time to the team. Working the third shift at an automotive plant in Cheraw, SC, Quick hardly has time to shower and eat dinner after the team’s evening practices before he clocks in each night.
“We weren’t playing that tournament for us, so anything less than winning it all would’ve been a disappointment,” he said.
The Carolina Cobras are no strangers to being short-handed during their season, which began back in March. They haven’t fielded a full 13-player roster since they very first tournament they participated in, and when they squared off against eight other teams in the Top Gun Super NIT ‘Battle for the Rings’ event held in Concord, NC, they did so with just nine players.
While the situation wasn’t anything new, the circumstances surrounding the tournament as well as the player and coach who were absent certainly were. Coach Chad Quick and his son (also named Chad) didn’t make the trip because they were by the side of wife and mother Julia, who underwent surgery for a malignant brain tumor that very same weekend.
“We are all brothers on the field, and family off the field,” said coach Chad Quick. “You never know the curve balls that life can throw at you, so I always make sure to remind this team how fortunate they are to have this opportunity. So many kids don’t have the chance that you do, so remember why you play the game in the first place.”
Each member of the Carolina Cobras squad always knows to check their cell phones the day prior to a big tournament, because they know exactly what to expect. A text message from coach Quick will undoubtedly be there, giving each kid words of encouragement and reminding them to maintain class and humility no matter the outcome.
And humility lies at the heart of the Carolina Cobras, who not only currently have a 22-2 record but have won a vast collection of baseball merchandise, plaques, medals and souvenirs since becoming a team some four years ago. Players from Scotland, Richmond and Marlboro counties form the basis of the team, which is entirely funded from the jerseys down to the equipment by a private sponsor.
A sponsor that the team has never met before.
“We don’t even know what he looks like,” Andy Quick said. “When we’ve offered to give him plaques commemorating a championship win, he doesn’t want them. It’s as if he wants nothing more than to know that a group of kids are playing baseball for the right reasons. We are very lucky indeed.”
The coaching staff of the Carolina Cobras have only one goal when they send their team out onto the diamond: to see their kids improve as both athletes and people. Each child must attend practice with their jerseys tucked in and a team hat nestled firmly on their head, a lesson in order and discipline handed down by coach Chad Quick. The team also has an award system in place that acknowledges such intangibles as ‘hardest-working’ and ‘best show of sportsmanship and good attitude’.
“If we can use baseball as a means to teach these kids the things that will make them successful in life, then I’m all for it,” coach Chad Quick said. “Whether these kids go on to Scotland and Richmond High Schools to become rivals or move on to other things, I’d like to think that we as coaches and parents had something to do with the men they become one day.”
Then there are the athletes themselves, each with a story to tell regarding their desire to don the red and black colors of the Carolina Cobras.
Though the team will be traveling to the Rocky Mountains today for their biggest tournament thus far this season (the Top Gun Summer World Series, featuring 19 13U teams from around the southeast), they will be doing so once again without some of their key players due to the July 4th holiday. But for a two day period, 13 year-old Aberdeen native Trent McCay will be there to answer the call, having heard about the team’s need for an additional player from cousin and Carolina Cobra team member Austin Taylor.
The Sandhills Swamp Dogs, McCay’s regular travel baseball team, is a rival of the Carolina Cobras.
”I never pass on the chance to play good baseball,” McCay said. “This is a great group of guys, and they remind me of why I like living around here in the first place. Small counties and good people.”
While a torn meniscus might sideline a professional-level athlete for an entire season, it only prevented Carolina Cobras starting pitcher Austin Clark from missing six weeks of the nine-month season. From the moment he felt a pop in his right knee while fielding a ground ball, Clark knew it would be a difficult road back to a total recovery, but nonetheless he worked harder than he ever had before to make his return.
And return he did, pitching four complete innings in the ‘Battle for the Rings’ championship game June 24th.
“I hated not being on the field with my teammates, so that motivated me to get back as quickly as I could,” Clark said. “It means a lot to be a part of this team, I like playing with everybody and it feels good to be back.”
For the weeks ahead, baseball will take on an entirely new meaning to catcher Chad Quick, who will be back on the field with his teammates and friends after missing the June 22nd weekend tournament in Concord.
“It feels good to be able to go out there, have fun, give it my all and take my mind off everything else,” Quick said. “It hurt not being there for my team, but I also know that if I’m not there they’ll still get it done. We’re always ready to do what we need to do when it comes time to play.”
No matter the player, one thing is required from then before they take the field as a Carolina Cobra. They must read and sign the “Carolina Cobras Team Pledge,” which tells each player what they must represent on and off the field. Among the qualities they must embody include integrity, dedication, perseverance and respect.
And at the very bottom of the pledge, an acronym for the word ‘TEAM’ appears: Together Everyone Achieves More.
“We hope to keep this group together through their high school career,” said coach Chad Quick. “But either way, we hope they take the concept of ‘team’ wherever they may travel in life.”
So, with just nine players in uniform and emotions running high, how did the Carolina Cobras do in the Top Gun Super NIT ‘Battle for the Rings’ tournament?
The final game of the week saw the Cobras square off against the hometown Prospect 1 Cyclones out of Concord. The Cyclones would get off to a fast start by scoring two runs in the first inning, but the combination of Cobra pitching (led by Clark) and defense would prevent the Cyclones from scoring another run for the duration of the game. The score would remain 2-0 in favor of the Cyclones until the sixth inning, when the Cobras tied the game after a furious two-out rally.
There would be two extra innings played on this night, and as if it were drawn up in a Hollywood movie script, the bottom of the ninth inning saw Carolina Cobras’ team captain Nick Locklear step up to the batter’s box with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Locklear would single up the middle to win the game, and the championship rings, for both the Carolina Cobras and the Quick family.
“I didn’t hit the ball well all weekend, but when that happened it made everything right,” Locklear said. “Those are the moments you live for right there, to be urged on by your teammates and get the big win.”
The 13U Carolina Cobras travel baseball team: