Everyone wanted to have a minute with Michael Lawson. Under the dusk sky, Lawson greeted people he had known for years with long hugs. He couldn’t stop smiling.
Lawson looked at all of the men who were standing next to him. The last time they were here, at Sanderson’s baseball field in Optimist Park, they were boys, adolescents who became friends through a game.
On Friday night, while this year’s Spartans beat the Broughton Caps 10-2, Lawson and 11 other players from the 1992 team that went to the NCHSAA Class 4A championship returned to Sanderson to be honored. And it took just 10 days for Lawson and his friends to get together after 20 years.
“I had heard it was going to happen, but we didn’t have a date,” Lawson said. “Then all of a sudden 10 days ago, we had to connect quickly.”
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Unlike 1992, there are more ways to reach people. Lawson, 37, used emails and Facebook to tell his 18 teammates about the event.
Many people, both players on the ‘92 team and faculty members at Sanderson, said Lawson was the right person to reunite the team.
After all, Lawson, an insurance salesman, didn’t leave Raleigh after graduating. Lawson’s wife, Emily, also graduated from Sanderson in 1993 but never saw him play baseball. The two became a couple after college.
One of the 12 players to make the trip was Brett Moore, who is a business developer in Salt Lake City. Moore, 38, hadn’t been in Raleigh in more than two years. He made sure not to miss this.
“What convinced me was I wanted to see these guys again,” Moore said. “When we all met it was like nothing had changed. It was like 20 years disappeared.”
Moore was the centerfielder on the ‘92 team. Next to him on the field that season was Lawson, who was in left field.
“When he was in the dugout, he would let you know what you were supposed to do,” Moore said of Lawson.
The Spartans reached the championship that season by winning one-run games in the postseason.
Lawson remembers pitcher Jason Langlois, who was drafted by the Cleveland Indians, recorded the save against Greenville Rose that put Sanderson in the championship.
The Spartans fell to Kernersville Glenn in the third and decisive game of the championship series.
Before Friday’s game, the 12 players took photos on the field. Lawson and Moore stood next to each other. Their coach, Mike Cody, who now coaches Sanderson’s softball team, threw out the first pitch.
“It’s special to have a night like this,” Cody said.
Tom Priester agreed.
Priester, the ace of this year’s Spartans, pitched a complete game. In front of more than 500 fans, he finished with eight strikeouts.
“I love it,” Priester said. “You have all those people cheering for you.”
Lawson remembers those cheers. Watching his alma mater win brought back memories.
“When I walked on the field, I started thinking about all the practices and games,” Lawson said. “Man … I’d loved to be out there playing again.”