It was a moment few players, coaches or teammates caught following a week’s worth of high school baseball between longtime Noland Road rivals Truman and the host William Chrisman Bears.
Chrisman senior Billy Ross had just caught seven innings of a 15-4 loss to the Patriots, then threw a three-hit gem, where he should have been rewarded with the lone Bears victory over Truman. But two costly errors led to three Patriot runs in a 4-3 victory over Ross.
After the game, it struck Ross that he had played his final high school game on the field that was recently named after his family – The Ross Family Field – and the tears flowed like a spring shower.
He sat in the now empty bleachers, while Chrisman coach Miles Shelton cleaned the dugout and threw a handful of balls into a bag.
Shelton noticed Ross, as tears began to well in his eyes.
He approached the heart-and-soul player – who had played second in one game, caught five others and pitched one of the finest games of his career – and placed his hand on Ross’ shoulder.
"Now Billy," Shelton said, "if you don’t stop crying, you’re going to have me crying. And that’s not the way to end today."
Shelton then walked back into the dugout and used a sleeve of his uniform to wipe away newly formed tears.
"I can’t even begin to tell you what Billy has meant to this program," Shelton said after the Independence School District allowed the three Independence schools to participate for one week in baseball, golf, tennis, soccer and track and field to help make up for the spring seasons wiped out by the coronavirus.
"We had an opportunity that no other school district in the state was allowed, and this week of playing six games (one against Van Horn, which was short on pitching) and five against Truman, is a week we’ll never forget," Shelton added. "I’ll never forget it because, one, we got to play, and two, the effort I saw from our guys, especially Billy. You saw all week how hard he worked behind the plate, and then, to go out and throw a complete game – that pretty much tells you what Billy has meant to this team since the first time he put on a Chrisman uniform."
A day after the loss, Ross was in good spirits and more than happy to talk about Chrisman and what the Bears program meant to him.
"The week got off to a great start when we came from behind to beat Van Horn (13-11)," Ross said. "Before the game, my parents were honored for donating the money to have our turf infield put in.
"I was so proud of my mom and dad for doing that. To be able to do it is pretty amazing, but to pick a donation like that – especially since I’m a senior and those were the only games I’ll ever play on it – made it even more special. They are so generous and they have meant so much to me throughout my baseball career.
"They took me to practices when I was a little kid, watched every game, and they were at every game this week, sitting right behind home plate."
In that win over the Falcons, Ross reached base four times and scored three runs from his leadoff spot in the batting order.
In a 6-5 loss to Truman in the second game that day, he hit a memorable home run.
"It was so cool to see Trey (Kates, his freshman teammate) hit the first home run after our field had been named after my family, and then, to hit a home run of my own was just too much to believe," Ross said.
His mother, Lori, sprinted out to left field to retrieve the baseball, while his father Francis cheered from behind home plate.
"I have that ball sitting on my dresser in my bedroom," Ross said with a laugh. "I might give it to my mom and dad someday, but for now, it’s going to stay in my room. That was just one of those moments you can’t believe!"
Shelton has been talking to area junior colleges about Ross, hoping that he opts to play collegiate baseball, rather than join the workforce, which are his current plans.
"Can you imagine Billy on a juco team?" asked Shelton. "They would love to have a player with his talent and drive. No one is ever going to outwork Billy, and I know a lot of people who hope he keeps on playing, including me."
Last week provided a roller-coaster worth of emotions for Ross, from the highs of that first win, to the lows of realizing he may never lace up a pair of cleats and put on another catcher’s mitt.
"If it is all over, I know I went out giving it everything I had – for my team, my teammates and coaches, my school and my family," Ross said. "Sure, I wish some things would have been different, but I would trade last week for anything."