After Brendan Donohue struck out to close the late June afternoon that ended the 2014 Darien High School baseball season, there seemed to be no better time to hang up his cleats and get away for a while.
A long winter of training, as well as a spring full of rigorous practice and play had concluded. The approaching summer was deservedly a time for rest and relaxation.
Yet, following his graduation a few weeks later, Donohue opted instead to lace up again, thousands of miles away for a program known as Old World Baseball. In early July, the future Middlebury Panther flew across the Atlantic for nearly two weeks of high-level, international baseball competition in England, Sweden and the Czech Republic. There, he played with more than a dozen other soon-to-be college baseball players against European professional and national teams.
And yet after as far as he had traveled Donohue wound up staring out at an all too familiar face upon stepping into the batters' box for his first game overseas. Toeing the rubber that day was Richard Brereton, his former Blue Wave teammate.
One month ago, the Darien duo squared off in a pair of scrimmages at Farnham Park, an athletic complex roughly 30 miles west of London, before each set off on his respective European trek with a British travel team. Brereton, who was born in London, played for the Great Britain 18U national squad and Donohue, whose mother is English, for the Old World Knights. Brereton, a rising Blue Wave junior, later went on to compete in the European Championship Qualifier Juniors U18 in Croatia.
Serving as a pitcher, shortstop and third baseman, Brereton helped Great Britain qualify for its first berth in the European Championships in nearly 15 years, a tournament that will be held next summer. He slugged a go-ahead home run in a critical win over Switzerland to help the Brits advance, en route to a five-game total of 11 RBIs.
"I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend my summer with playing, seeing Brendan in London and meeting new guys," Brereton said. "The whole thing was really, really worthwhile. It was an experience I wouldn't trade for the world."
However, his trip did not start out on such a high note, and there was no one else to blame but Donohue.
Darien's starting second baseman from the spring collected two hits against Brereton, though he was eventually retired in their third and final battle. Recalling his performance that afternoon, Donohue said he managed to fight off a well-placed change-up for an infield single in his second at-bat. Overall, the Old World Baseball Knights endured little difficulty against a squad hoping to come together before its big tournament in the ensuing week.
"We were a little more talented than that team because they're young. But their whole team fought really hard," Donohue said. "(Brereton) pitched pretty well, I thought."
The young ballplayers discovered they would cross paths in London this summer roughly six months ago, as they prepared for the upcoming high school season with the same personal trainer in Norwalk. Brereton had recently received word he had been chosen to play on the 18U National team, while Donohue already knew he would be with Old World Baseball come July.
After returning to the States, both shared how happy they were to have played alongside tremendous teammates and coaches, as well as a mutual surprise to the high level of baseball being played in Europe.
"You don't think about baseball when you think about Great Britain, but there are great, great players capable of doing great, great things," Brereton said. "I was happy to play for the country I was born in."
Going forward, Donohue has advised Brereton to keep up his strength training, an approach that paid dividends for him this past season, when the Blue Wave second baseman earned a spot on the Hearst Super-15 All-Star team. His efforts also helped lead Darien to its first FCIAC tournament berth since 2009 and one of the program's best campaigns in recent memory. Read Full Article
"It was a great year. It was probably the most successful year Darien has had in a while," Donohue said. "I'm really excited to come back next year and watch them play. Not only all the juniors, but the rising sophomores, too. I'm going to miss them all."
As for Brereton, he plans to return from an upcoming family vacation to North Carolina with the goal of helping the Blue Wave continue its success on the diamond. And he believes his recent international experience has uniquely prepared him to do so.
Even if the first batter he ever faced on foreign soil had been living just a few minutes away all along.