It had been so long since he felt good at the plate that Steve Sobocinski had practically given up on batting. The whole process frustrated him: He spent weeks searching for a bat that felt comfortable. Then, when he finally found the right bat, he spent twice as long searching for his swing.
A few months ago, he cut back on his trips to the batting cages. Ed Glaeser, the coach of Sobocinski's Frank Riley League summer team, Chaney Enterprises, started to use him more as a pitcher than a hitter.
"He wasn't really hitting anything for us, and it felt like he might not ever get going again," Glaeser said. "I didn't know what would happen, or if he would decide to give up."
Sobocinski decided to try again, and the results boosted Chaney Enterprises (27-12) to a second-place finish at the American Legion Baseball State Tournament on Tuesday.
Over five games, Sobocinski batted a team-high .436 with eight hits. He slapped six singles during the best-two-of-three final series against Funkstown Post 211. Chaney lost the series when Funkstown completed ninth-inning rallies in the second and third games.
Sobocinski, however, found his hitting stroke in the defeats.
"I guess I got into a groove and just kept going," said Sobocinski, who also gave up one run in eight innings of pitching during the tournament. "I took whatever they threw to me and made something happen. This was the time for me to step up."
Especially because the American Legion State Tournament might have marked the passing of the torch between Sobocinski and his older brother, Ben. They have played on teams together for the past several years, usually with Steve stuck in his older brother's shadow. On their high school team at McDonough, Ben was an All-Extra performer the past two seasons; Steve, meanwhile, referred to himself as "basically a nobody."
That will change when Ben leaves to play baseball and attend school at the University of Hartford this month. McDonough and Chaney Enterprises will look to Steve -- with his reliable fastball and his 6-foot-2 power hitter build -- to fill much of the void during his senior season.
"He's a better player than he ever gets credit for, and now he is going to get a big chance to show it," Ben said. "For him, it's all about getting into a good rhythm. Once he starts feeling good at the plate, he's probably going to keep hitting like that for a while."
At the Legion tournament, Steve's bat came to life in batting practice, where he ripped a few line drives that made his teammates gawk. He had a hit in each of Chaney's first two games, and in the final series he was consistently on base and scored a pair of runs.
"He kept surprising me a little bit every time he came to the plate," Glaeser said. "He kept getting good contact on the ball and making things happen. It was like, 'I didn't know he could keep hitting like that.' "
Ben had seen his brother enjoy similar hot streaks.
During the high school regular season, he recommended that Steve use a less flexible bat. His brother responded by hitting seven doubles and two home runs in his next 10 at-bats.
"When he gets hot, he's hotter than anybody," Ben said. "I've been telling the coaches at Hartford that they've got to look at him. I think they're pretty interested in him, especially when he hits like he has been hitting. I want him to go there. It would be awesome if we could play on the same team again."