CLEARWATER - The bid by Patrick Schuster of Mitchell High for a fifth consecutive no-hitter ended quickly Tuesday afternoon. Schuster wasn't even all that sorry to see it go.
As the ball hit by Gaither's Drew Doty shot over the right fielder's head for a no-doubt double in the third inning - well, let Schuster tell it.
"I looked up and said to myself, 'Thank you.' I just didn't need it any more," he said.
Yeah, the circus was over. Schuster knew warming up that the no-hit streak was over. He said he even knew that Doty was going to get a hit "before the ball came out of my hand." Some days are like that, and no sport can bring down even the highest flier the way baseball can.
But a few other things happened on this day that must be reported, at least if the story is to be fully told. Start with the kids from Gaither, who laid a 9-4 beating on the Mitchell Mustangs and the no-hit kid.
Gaither reminded us again just how deep prep baseball is around here, for this was a district tournament game with finality for the loser and the Cowboys weren't about to be stage props to Schuster's amazing streak.
With the stakes about as high as they could be, complete with ESPN cut-ins and local television cameras from just about every station in town, Gaither stole 10 bases and jumped on just about every mistake Mitchell made.
The Mustangs made plenty of them, too. There were 12 walks (five by Schuster). He hit three batters.
Back to normal
You can be disappointed, but you also can be classy. So there he was near the head of the line as the teams met to shake hands. A few minutes later he stood before way many more cameras than a high school kid should have to face and handled it like a pro.
"They're a great bunch of kids," Schuster said of the team that had beaten him.
This whole thing was getting out of hand. He hadn't given up a hit since March 24 against Alonso, and it was a compelling story for sure.
But then the cameras kept coming, the microphones multiplied, ESPN got involved, and pretty soon we had ourselves a genuine sporting phenomenon going.
There's always one more question, one more request, and it can be fun for a while.
Then it stops being fun.
"It's been great, but this is a weight that has been put to a stopping halt," he said. "Now I don't have to think about baseball for a while. I get to take off and spend time with my family and friends. I'm looking forward to that."
He'll have decisions to make soon enough. He has a scholarship offer from the University of Florida, but he'll have to balance that against whatever comes his way on the amateur draft in June. For now, there's no rush.
"I'm going to go hide in a hole for a while and stay out of the spotlight," he said.
Stood and cheered
Gaither trailed 2-1 in the top of the third with a runner on first and none out. Doty was waiting on a fastball and he got one up in the zone. He hit it hard. The overflow crowd at the Countryside High baseball complex sat almost stunned for a moment.
As the ball came back to the infield, though, and Schuster prepared to face the next hitter, people stood and began to applaud. A high school kid had gone 281/3 innings without giving up a hit, and now the streak was over. The cheers grew louder.
Schuster heard them. He thought they were initially for Doty, "But then I realized it wasn't for him. It was really good to feel that, the support of the community."
Mitchell fans weren't the only ones standing. Gaither players stood and applauded as well. Classy move by a classy team.
Schuster was gone after five innings and 100 pitches. The magic simply wasn't there.
It had been there for so long, though, and there's no reason to feel too sad now. Having your final game as a high school player end like this can be a downer if you let it be that way, but as he faced the cameras for one last time Patrick Schuster did so with a smile.
Well, why not?
"I don't know," he said, "if anything can compare to these last few months."