HORNELL — Growing up in the greater Hornell area, watching the Hornell Dodgers play can sometimes feel like watching a private Major League Baseball game. And for any local baseball player, being a member of the Hornell Dodgers is often just as big of a dream as being in the majors.
This season, seven local athletes from Hornell, Bolivar, Dansville, Almond and Bath proved that those dreams are within reach by being key members of the 2018 Hornell Dodgers team. Jake Dunn (Hornell), Matt Dessena (Hornell), Colin Johnson (Almond), Chris McDonell (Bath), Parker Cole (Bolivar), Anthony Kanaval (Dansville) and Jack Henby (Hornell) all saw significant playing for a team that has a deep history of former players reaching the big leagues.
Any local baseball player knows about the Hornell Dodgers growing up, and watching them whip the ball around or crush it over the fence can often seem like the act of a super hero. And for many of the athletes on this year’s team, a 12-year old version of themselves might not even believe that they were now the super heroes.
“I mean I would probably be speechless. I remember coming to this game and watching the guys sling the ball in from the fence, thinking to myself, ‘Holy moly I’ll never be able to do something like that',” said Henby. “But now that I’m standing here finally being a Dodger — it’s pretty amazing.”
Added Kanaval, “I wouldn’t believe me if I told myself that when I was 12 I’d be on this team. When you’re growing up, you think of this as basically a local professional team. And I remember coming here when I was 12 — and it really brings back good memories.”
“I actually had a conversation with my mom about this, and we were getting nostalgic because I remember coming to these games in about third grade when I was nine years old, and it just seemed like such a big stage at that point,” said McDonnell. “But then you get here, and it doesn’t seem like anything that is far-fetched. It just seems natural.”
“I know 12-year old me would be pretty excited, because it’s a really big deal around here. When I was younger, I had friends with older brothers who played here, and they won a lot of games, so it was really cool to watch them,” said Johnson. “I know I’d be excited.”
But being a Dodger is about more than just being available to play baseball during the evenings. Being on the Hornell Dodgers also requires a commitment to bettering the community in the summer months, particularly with the youth.
And since many of these players grew up attending the camps and Kids Days, being on the opposite side of the equation was a humbling, unique and extremely rewarding experience.
“These guys had such an influence on me growing up, and now its great seeing the same reaction from the kids on the other side,” said Dunn. “It’s just been an awesome experience and it really changes the way that people look at you.”
“It’s been really nice, and I have a younger brother here who plays baseball, so it’s been great. The Dodger camp, and all the other things that we do really get us involved in the community,” said Dessena. “And I love watching the younger kids — especially seeing how much they love the game. It gives me a lot of hope that baseball isn’t dying in Hornell, and that it never will.”
In fact, based on the number of local athletes who are continuing their baseball careers at the next level, it seems as though baseball is actually growing in this area and getting stronger with each new generation.
“Livingston County, Steuben County and Allegany County baseball has always had great competition. Coach (Brian) Dyring always told us that,” said Henby. “I think it says a lot about how players are progressing in Hornell that they can get a few players on this team.”
“It’s pretty huge that there are guys on this team that are local who can compete with other players from big cities or big schools. I think it shows a lot about how baseball is still doing pretty well around here,” said Johnson.
“I think it’s nice that we get locals here, because we’ve grown up watching this team and it shows the other kids in the area that it is possible,” said Kanaval. “And I also think it’s great that we get to have kids coming here from around the country, because they get to see what this area really has to offer.”
And for the Hornell High School graduates, being able to wear a jersey with “Hornell” on the front for just a little bit longer is not an opportunity that they wanted to waste.
“It’s pretty cool. I miss Hornell and playing sports there, so this is pretty awesome getting to wear a Hornell jersey once again,” said Henby.
“Playing baseball after high school has always been a dream of mine. So getting this opportunity to play after high school has been great, and getting to play for my hometown again — I like it a lot and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it,” said Dessena.
“At the end of my high school career, I really didn’t think I was going to have this opportunity again, so it’s awesome again to just have ‘Hornell’ across my chest one more time,” said Dunn. “You’ve got to love it because it’s a great community and it’s a great place to play baseball.”