By Jacob Rudner
On the concrete concourse down the first base line of War Memorial Stadium, Peninsula Pilots owner Henry Morgan stood with the field to his back, his coaching staff to his sides and the wooden bleachers, filled with the newest group of Pilots players in front of him as they listened to the words he says before every season.
"There is history here," Morgan said. "There is history here far greater than you can comprehend. It is at every position on the field, at every locker in the locker room and in the very space you're all sitting right now."
For Henry, the stadium is a hall of fame. If the walls could talk, they would have plenty of stories to tell: Satchel Paige's last professional pitch and Johnny Bench's first games behind the plate. The way Pilot greats of the far past, such as Duke Snider and Barry Bonds were followed by the starts of the last 20 years such as Ryan Zimmerman and Chad Pinder.
The team's history is it's soul. Every crack of the bat and Take Me Out to the Ballgame are simply lengthy pieces of rope binding the strands of the past to the ever-developing present.
"History is what makes Hampton so special," Pilots' broadcaster Frank Edgar said to the team. "It makes this city special and it will make you all special. You will write your own stories this summer."
As the bright orange sun hung in the 4 p.m. sky last Tuesday, the newest chapter of the Pilots' story began. Their page in the decades old history book was officially opened, still blank and unscribed. Henry Morgan wrote the first line of 2019. The clicking of cleats on concrete and crack of the lumber on the field came next.
"I love that first sound of a bat every year," Henry Morgan said. "It just means baseball is here."
The roster features players both of familiar face and of new ones.
Doug Palmer, Dalton Dedas, Ryan Devine, Clyde Yoder and others were preparing for their second summers in Hampton as new players with old blood like Jake Boone readied themselves for the season.
Boone is another example of Hampton's historic importance. MLB veteran Bret Boone, Jake's father, began his professional career on the same infield his son now plays on.
But, whether they are connected to a Pilot star of the past or returning for their second season, the Pilots of today, led by Henry's son Hank Morgan, are looking to build an identity of their own; an identity that can be built through the beauty of collegiate summer league baseball.
Collegiate summer league is an opportunity for all college players, from community colleges to the biggest D-I schools, to join forces and build a baseball team that realistically simulates the life of a minor league baseball player.
For the Pilots, 2019 will bring a 52-game schedule with travel that will take the players up and down the east coast, from the Fayetteville, North Carolina, stadium endearingly known as "The Swamp," to the All-Star festivities in Savannah, Georgia, in July
But, in the interim, the goal is not travel or a taste of what could be. It is building a legacy worth remembering.
"We just want [the players] to do something their proud of," Hank Morgan said. "We want them to get better, that's first and foremost. But, beyond that, build a legacy. Build it by playing good baseball and respecting the game but build it by signing that autograph for a little kid and making him or her remember you."
The Morgan family prides themselves on that. The simple principle of loving the people around them like family.
"These players were the kids wanted that the autographs just a few years ago," Hank said. "Now kids want their autographs and it's their turn to give them."
This season is, in a lot of ways, the same as any season before it for most teams. The players come, the play and they leave. But, in Hampton it is different. The players come and leave their history. They write their own stories. The Morgan family just hopes to be a piece in that rope that holds together history's connections.