TOWNSEND -- Like a dandy lion whistling through the air, North Middlesex senior captain Kevin Powell's (2-2 3.60 ERA) knuckleball jives and dances its way into the mitt of junior catcher Ben Wright. When the word "knuckleball" is uttered around Massachusetts, people think Tim Wakefield. No, Powell does not feature the standard curve ball -- a knuckleball and a fastball comprise his arsenal.
Powell first discovered he had the deceptive knuckler at the end of Senior League, while he and Wright were goofing around loosening up their arms.
"Four years ago I thought it would be cool to play with it," Powell said. "I literally threw it all the time when I was catching, and I finally got it down."
Powell has also caught and played first base for the Patriots throughout his career. At the start of the season, head coach Tom Bartelson really had no inclination to put Powell on the bump, but newly acquired depth at catcher allowed the pitching maestro to go to work.
"He has been more or less pushing to pitch for years," Bartelson said. "Last year we needed him behind the plate due to injuries with our catching system. We were able to get another kid in there this year to catch for Kevin.
"When you start the preseason everybody is a pitcher. Everybody looks good in the gym. Once he got out there and proved he could throw strikes with that crazy little knuckleball, we really couldn't stop him from pitching."
The knuckler is a whacky pitch that has the tendency to catch the jetstream and is known for giving catchers fits at the professional level. Over the years, Wright has mastered the art of securing the mesmerizing sphere of stitches and rawhide.
"Me and Kevin have played together for a couple years," said Wright. "He always throws the knuckleball in practice and it is something that you have to get used to. Behind the plate I was just trying to be patient, let the ball move as deep as possible, until I had to catch it at the last second. It is a very tricky thing to do."
Wright said Bartelson was not sold when the pair approached him with the idea of allowing Powell to throw the knuckler in a live game.
"At first he was pretty skeptical about it," said Wright. "I kind of had to talk him into letting Kevin actually throw it into a game. After he saw Kevin throw a couple of bullpens, I think he was more comfortable with it. "
The knuckleball is a finicky pitch that depends on the weather.
"When the wind was blowing from left to right it always gave it that extra dance," said Powell. "I always had kids come up to me and ask if I was throwing a curve, because it was sliding away from them."
Powell was named, along with seniors Andrew Jena and Joe Smith, to the Mid-Wach B All-Star team.
"It came as a big surprise," Powell said. "I never really knew they had an all-star team for high school. When he told us that we made it; I was proud of myself. I was finally given a chance to play this season."
At the start of the season, Bartelson and his staff asked the kids to select their captains. Powell was selected to his and Bartelson's surprise.
"Powell is a silent leader," said Bartelson. "He was a quality leader who got the kids together for team dinners and stuff like that. If there were issues going around, he and the other three captains would take care of each other and he kept them close."
Powell came down with the flu during one of the games this season. Bartelson remembers the conversation he had with his senior leader.
"There was one game he was sick as a dog," said Bartelson. "I told him, I'll pull you out. It is not worth getting hurt, but he said no. He went off to the side and did what he had to do and came back in the game, got himself composed and completed the seven innings. He ended up getting a couple of hits for us. He was wiped out by the end of the game."
Powell felt that if he didn't play while sick, he was giving up on his team.
"I was catching that game," said Powell. "It was the last time I was ever going to play baseball. Any opportunity I got, I was not about to sit on that bench again. I just wanted to play. I wanted to show everyone I cared about the game."
Powell graduated last Friday and enlisted in the Army for Ranger training. Powell leaves for basic training at Ft. Benning, Ga. in July.
"I have always been really interested in the military," said Powell. "I always wanted to fight for my country, and it seems like a lot more logical choice for me than school. I enjoy being outside and the atmosphere of how everyone has so much respect for each other. It is a place where I can take my leadership skills and excel with it."