After two years as a backup catcher, junior Colton Roberts will get his chance to lead the SCH Academy baseball team following the death of his father, John, in October.

by Ed Morrone

Last season, the SCH Academy baseball program won its first outright Inter-Ac title in 30 years, and even from the bench, it was one of the best days of Colton Roberts’ life.

Roberts was a sophomore on that perfect afternoon last May, the backup catcher to senior Sam Aslansan, and his contributions mainly included getting the Blue Devil bench fired up during the team’s ultimate 5-0 league-clinching victory over visiting Penn Charter.

“Not even playing, it was still one of the top moments of my life,” Roberts said. “It was a breath of fresh air, and I was so happy to see everyone complete that task. I was on the sideline getting people riled up, but I can’t even imagine what it was like to be on the field behind the dish.”

With Aslansan and six other seniors from last year’s team gone, Roberts, SCH’s new starting junior catcher, was told that maybe he wouldn’t have to wait too long to get the firsthand experience.

“I know I will,” he said confidently. “Sam was a great leader to me and for the team, and I was learning as much as I could from him. I’m looking to do the same thing he did. We have great chemistry, and it’s an awesome team, so I’m just looking to fill his shoes the best I can.”

When he takes the field for SCH’s first game soon, Roberts will be settling into his familiar crouch behind home plate with a guardian angel on his shoulder. Roberts’ father, John, suffered a sudden heart attack in October at the family’s home in Hatfield. Colton was home at the time and was the situation’s first responder. He immediately called for help, but John died, leaving Colton with an immeasurable void in his life.

“My dad was a huge part of my life,” he said. “He never gave up a second without working hard. He was a constant motivator for me, on and off the field. He didn’t know a ton about baseball, but he knew that I loved it, and if I loved it, he loved it. He was behind me every game, and I look forward to making him proud. It turned my world upside down and it made me age beyond my years. I definitely feel more suitable for life, and I’m just ready to go.”

Roberts also talked about dedicating this season, his first as a varsity starter, to John’s memory.

“I’m setting a goal of another Inter-Ac championship, and winning that for him would be awesome,” he said. “But my main goal is to just do the best I can to my ability. I have a brother, Jamie, in the Green Berets, and he’s told me since I was 8 years old that if you set goals for life, then you can do anything. With he and my dad, I have a lot pushing me forward to do the best I can.”

Of course, Roberts has also leaned on his baseball Ohana,  the Hawaiian word for family. The Blue Devils have been just as instrumental in Roberts’ recovery as his biological family, because, at the end of the day, baseball is a safe haven for all of them. When one hurts, they all hurt, and the program has wrapped its arms around Roberts and been there with him every step of the way.

That includes Joe Ishikawa, the head coach of the SCH baseball program. Ishikawa had gotten a chance to know John and the Roberts family over the last couple years, and he is doing his best to be there for Colton as a secondary father figure in John’s untimely absence. At the same time, Ishikawa said that John left his son armed with the strength and maturity to carry on.

“Someone once told me a long time ago, ‘Fear not when someone dies young, because they still have lived a full life,’” Ishikawa said. “His father died young, but having been around him, I know he left Colton with a lot of life lessons. I fully expect that when it comes time to cross the white lines and battle, that’s where Colton will be at his best, because then the chaos starts ramping up, we fall back on the life lessons people taught us.”

Ishikawa told an anecdote of Roberts being called up to varsity as a freshman when the team’s backup got injured. Despite the fact that Roberts has been blocked by an incumbent starter for two years, he’s never once complained, instead directing all of his focus into becoming the best catcher he can be for when his time comes. Ishikawa noticed, and that time is now.

“You don’t have to light a fire under Colton, because he wakes up with that fire already burning,” Ishikawa said. “He’s a solid defensive catcher who understands the concepts more and more. He’s made strides to make his technique better, and his character allows him to handle our pitchers.”

If the Blue Devils are going to repeat as outright champs (they shared league titles in 2007 and 2016), they will need Roberts and other holdovers to step up. Some other names to watch out for are senior captains Scott Bandura (right field) and Jared Sprague-Lott (shortstop), both of whom will be playing in college, at Princeton and Richmond, respectively. Junior Jon Bautista and sophomore Jakob Runkel are pitchers to watch out for, while Roberts singled out outfielder Brian Henesey as a bat to keep an eye on.

For the first time in perhaps 30 years, SCH baseball will open the season as the hunted rather than the hunters, and that suits the team just fine, according to its new starting catcher.

“We have a target on our backs now, and that’s fine with us,” Roberts said. “This team has been behind me and has supported me in every way. I can’t tell them how much I appreciate them. Now, I want to go live up to these expectations and go out there and rake. Being composed and not failing under the pressure will be the biggest thing for a young team, but I think we’ll be fine with that. We want to come together and prove we’re one big family on and off the field.”

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