‘A business trip’ : Kits return to Vero Beach after three-year absence


Senior Jared Lortie pitches at Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach. Photo courtesy of Jared Lortie.

Christopher Vye, Sports Editor

Since 2008, the Evanston Varsity Baseball Squad has made the more than one-thousand-mile trek down to Vero Beach, Florida, every year over spring break. There, the Wildkits take on teams coming in from all over the country, all while enjoying the pristine tropical warmth characteristic of Florida’s Atlantic coast. 

That was, until, March 2020.

“We had a practice at the [Quad Indoor Sports] bubble near James Park, and before that practice ended, we got word that the school was shutting down,” says ETHS Baseball Coach Mark Metz, a Vero Beach veteran. “Everything was canceled. Everything was done. That’s when we found out that the trip was also canceled.”

For Metz, the cancellation was of particular significance. Metz was a part of the original group of parents that brought the idea of a spring break trip to Head Coach Frank Consiglio’s desk way back in 2008—his first year leading the baseball program at Evanston. 

And for the rest of the coaching staff, players, and families, It was an unprecedented development that a global pandemic would be the reason to call off the trip. 

“The best way to describe the reaction of the players and all of us was just stunned,” Metz went on. “None of us had ever been through anything like that in our lives. The best way I can describe it is everybody was stunned into silence.”

Over the next two years, the lingering pandemic continued to halt Evanston’s annual voyage to Vero. And while the trip technically would have been possible last year, with plans for it needing to be made almost a year in advance, the Wildkit Nation decided not to go. But this year, E-Town returned, and in full force. 

The best way I can describe it is everybody was stunned into silence.

— ETHS Baseball Coach Mark Metz

With wins against teams coming out of Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Florida, the Wildkits were able to attain a staggering 9-2 record while in Vero, including a win against a team ranked amongst Kentucky’s top ten.

“[This year was] right up with the top performances we’ve had down there,” says Metz.

Most of those victories came as no easy feat for the orange and blue. Between the nine wins, six of them were decided by a margin of three runs or less. 

“I think those close victories, like our last game, the one against Lower Merion, they really showed us that we can hang with some good teams,” says varsity catcher Jason McDermott. “Especially in that last game, we were able to work back from being behind. It was great to see us battle.”

Starting varsity pitcher and center fielder Hank Liss echoes McDermott’s sentiments in regard to those tight wins.

“It says a lot about our team, a lot about our character, and how far we’ve come already in this short time,” says Liss. “We put our best out there and left it all on the field.”

Though none of this year’s team had ever played in Vero before, interestingly, this was not Liss’s or McDermott’s first time there: both had made the trip in 2019, the last time it had happened before the pandemic, as siblings of varsity players.

Liss reflects on what it meant to go from being in the stands at Vero Beach to actually being on the field.

“I walk into Florida as an eighth grader, seeing all the varsity high school ball players play,” says Liss. “It’s every kid’s dream once you watch them. I saw how competitive they were and I wanted that to be me one day.”

“It went from more of a vacation to almost a sort of business trip,” added McDermott. “We were there to play baseball, so the focus definitely changed.”

But while in Vero, although baseball was undoubtedly the team’s focus, it would be remiss to say that it was the only thing that occurred. One day of the trip is always kept baseball free for some family fun on the beach, and in between games, the competition doesn’t stop.

“Usually after every game, we would all go back to the dorm and start a pick-up basketball game or hop in the pool, and there was even a big grassy area where we’d go and play soccer or spikeball,” says Liss.

“Whatever could bring the team together we spent a lot of time doing it,” says McDermott. “It was just a lot of fun bonding with these guys and playing some fun games.”

So on top of being a chance to play some highly competitive baseball, Vero Beach is also a time for each year’s varsity team to be with one another in a way they may never get to again. Considering the lofty aspirations this year’s team has for itself, including a conference, sectional, and potentially even state championship, it’s clear that the lessons the Kits learned in Vero Beach are bound to serve them throughout the rest of the season.

“We had always thought of this year, going back to [when we were nine or ten], that this was our year,” says McDermott. “Vero reaffirmed that. We knew we were a good team going into the season, but this definitely showed us that we’re supposed to be here and our confidence is not unfounded.”