Growing pains a thing of the past

Waterford

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that teenagers' preferred mode of communication with adults today are word spasms yelled over whatever's jackhammering from their iPods.

Just not much of an exaggeration sometimes. Which is what makes Jordan Hamler an original. Seriously. The kid is a hoot. He'll make you laugh. Guaranteed. He'll look you in the eye when he talks to you, flash the Eddie Haskell grin and then say something wacky. Everyone who talks about him inevitably uses the words "crazy" or "wacko." Even his father, Greg, says sonny boy is "a little out there."

"He's a self-proclaimed wacko," his baseball coach at Waterford High, Art Peluso says. "I think he likes that."

The ball will rest in Hamler's capable hands Saturday when the Lancers pursue a ring for all fingers, otherwise known as the program's 10th state baseball title. Hamler, a senior right-hander who has already won two games in the state tournament, has been enjoying the spring of his content after his winter of discontent. He's proof that you should never give up on high school kids, because they're still kids.

And kids arrive at answers at their own pace, even if it drives their parents, teachers and coaches to therapy.

Hamler missed the basketball team's final six games, arriving at a mutual decision with coach Greg Gwudz that Hamler needed to go. Let's leave it here: Practice wasn't necessarily Hamler's favorite pursuit. A shame, really, because it was senior year. And the Lancers honestly wouldn't have won the school's first state basketball championship in 50-plus years without him in 2011.

"When Jordan is committed to something, he's one of the best kids you could ever coach," Gwudz said. "He's tough and he has some craziness, which he knows how to channel. I'll never forget a shot he made against Valley (in the 2011 quarterfinals) and he runs back on defense with his tongue out and everyone's going nuts. Or six points in the last minute of the semifinal game.

"I sent Jordan a note (Wednesday) after the semifinals and wished him luck," Gwudz said. "I hope he gets the baseball championship. He's made for that moment."

More than one observer inside the high school, though, wondered what would become of Hamler this spring. Would he act like a senior or a distraction?

The answer has been inspiring.

"He's figured it out," Peluso said. "He's an 18-year-old kid. It takes time sometimes. I've had meetings with him and told him what's expected. Academically, his grades weren't great a few months ago. Now he made the honor roll."

Hamler shows us, once again, how sports impart lessons with a tenor and urgency that teachers, parents and coaches can't always duplicate. Hamler knows he's more important to his team than a lung. He knows he must be there for them. Every day. And so he has been. This is no longer Jordan Hamler making decisions in the best interest of Jordan Hamler. It's called growing up.

"I learned from basketball," Hamler said. "I brought it to baseball. I didn't want this to end up like basketball. I want to be a real team member."

If the Lancers win this weekend, keep the cameras rolling on him. He's the kid who was caught kissing the ECC championship trophy a few weeks ago. He could try to plant one on the bigger, heavier state championship trophy, too. Or think of something, you know, different. Don't bet against him.

"I don't know if I'm all there," he said. "Sometimes I try to be, but I'm just going missing. I think my dad dropped me on my head too much when I was little."

This is Jordan Hamler's last official act in a Waterford uniform. He'll pitch at Southern Connecticut next year. He may leave the 06385 as the only athlete in its history to sport basketball and baseball championship rings. He'd have been a huge part of both. Not to mention head comedian, occasional pain in the rear and a perpetually entertaining resident of Planet Hamler.

"This is what I live for," Hamler said, alluding to the title game. "I want the pressure. I like being in the spotlight. All eyes on me. I want to be in those big time situations. That's how you get remembered."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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