It’s a tradition that started in January during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between LSU and Clemson.
Members of the Perry baseball program all gathered at the house of senior outfielder Trenton Pallas. Sophomores up to those in the senior class were all invited over for food to watch two of the best college football programs in the country go at it on primetime.
There was little baseball talk that night, as most, if not all in attendance focused on the game. But it allowed the team to bond and build a level of chemistry they hoped would trump that of the Perry teams in the past.
“We had everyone over, and we were like, ‘why don’t we just do something like this every week?’” Pallas said. “On Friday’s we will also have a team dinner but at a random player’s house.
“So, we get together to start the week and end the week.”
Since that Jan. 13 night, the team has gathered at Pallas’ house every Monday. Sometimes the team eats steak, other times burgers. During their most recent team dinner on Monday, March 9, Costco pizza was the food of choice. Mostly because it was “easy,” but also because Perry had just beaten Westwood in a power points game an hour prior to when team dinner was supposed to take place.
On at least one occasion, they had breakfast for dinner. That drew a lot of positive reviews from players.
“Breakfast was pretty good,” senior infielder Brycen Tambone said. “We can’t really expect a full course meal when we have a game the same night.”
Tambone and Pallas both agreed that there is generally close to 30 minutes of baseball talk at the team dinner. Sometimes its pointers from seniors to the underclassmen, other times it revolves around Perry’s next opponent.
After that, they talk about what’s going on in each of their lives. From personal problems outside of school to anything they may have difficulties with inside the classroom, every player feels it is a safe place to vent about whatever is going on in their lives.
“We just talk about life with each other, honestly,” Pallas said. “What’s new, friends, stuff like that. You can go to anybody on this team and they’ll help you out with whatever it is you’re going through.
“Whenever you have to have a real talk with someone, anyone of us can help.”
The ability for every player, regardless of age, to interact with one another is an aspect that has so far proven to be effective for the Perry baseball program. The Pumas’ win over Westwood on Monday helped them improve to 4-3-1 on the season. Most importantly, it came after back-to-back losses to nationally ranked Mountain Pointe and Queen Creek suffered the week prior.
Before the season was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, Perry coach Damien Tippett had seen improvement from last year’s team. Most notably, in the pitching staff.
Perry relied heavily on its veteran pitchers in 2018. But with most of them departing due to graduation, it allowed younger players to step into starting roles on the mound. That resulted in a roller coaster of a season for Perry in 2019 but still finished above .500 at 15-11-1.
The team finished the 2019 campaign with a 4.96 earned run average (ERA), a slight bump from the year prior. This year, while it hasn’t resulted in several wins yet, Tippett has seen an uptick in confidence from his pitching staff on the mound.
“All of those guys who took up those innings who struggled and threw a lot of pitches last year, they’re now more experienced,” Tippett said. “Kai Taylor last year, here would have thrown a lot of pitches early in an inning. Now he’s got a mindset of getting out of there in 15 pitches or less.
“That’s the mindset of all the pitchers this year. That really helps out.”
Tippett and his players believe they have enough talent to make a run in the postseason should they get the chance. But he remains coy on not letting them get too ahead of themselves.
Like most programs, he preaches “one pitch at a time” and to play for each other. in the limited number of games they were able to play before the season was put on pause, everyone had bought into that mindset.
“We all have to play for the team and not ourselves,” Tambone said. “We all have to keep working week-by-week and day-by-day.”