You could see it in her eyes and the way she smiled.
It was a story JoEllen Moore had long wanted to tell.
Moore’s son, Caleb, was 6 when his father, Mike, died of a heart attack in 1998. It was a devastating blow, but Caleb was ready to step up and be the man of the house. Mike had taught him well in the short time they’d had together.
One particular morning, Moore found out how well.
“He (Caleb) was standing at the sink where his dad used to shave,” she said. “He looked up at me and said, ‘I’m going to be the best Mike Moore I can be.’ I said, ‘No. You be the best Caleb you can be. That’s what your dad would want you to do.’”
Fast forward 12 years, and the son has become the father in more ways than anyone imagined back then.
The Maryville High School baseball team collected another district win with an 8-1 decision over Bearden on Monday at Maryville College. With the win, the Rebels tied the school record for wins in a season, set by the 1989 state championship team.
The Rebels (24-5, 11-3) open District 4AAA tournament play as the No. 2 seed this weekend at the college, a chance to have the record all to themselves at their fingertips.
“To be about to do that my senior year is a great thing,” Moore said.
It’s a relatively young team, displaying at times surprising maturity, that’s made these Rebels co-record holders, Maryville coach Jim Gaylor said. Last season’s junior varsity has come along a lot faster than expected, he said. Defensively, the Rebels are one of the district’s top clubs.
They’re getting timely hitting and power numbers. Senior Landon Talley and Moore pace the team with seven and five home runs, respectively.
“We had a little race going for awhile,” Moore said.
Few, excepting the Rebels themselves, saw this season’s surge coming at the start of the year.
“At the beginning of the year, coach Gaylor said, ‘Guys, we’re not going to be a team that’s going to have three or four .400 hitters,’” Talley said. “I think we have four or five.”
Not quite, but it’s close. Then there’s pitching, the place where this season’s Rebels have done their best work, with Moore the ace of the staff - like father, like son.
Mike Moore was a tall, hard-throwing right-hander when he was taken in the 13th round by the Chicago Cubs in the 1975 Major League Draft. He’d left behind exceptional numbers at Tennessee Tech, his marks for career winning percentage (11-2) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.60) still ranking third and fourth, respectively, all-time at the school.
Mike made it all the way to AAA before a shoulder injury ended his career, but the Moores may get there yet.
Caleb accepted an offer recently to pitch collegiately at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. With a fastball in the mid 80s, Caleb is an unbeaten 7-0 entering postseason, compiling a team-best 2.04 earned run average along the way. Moore’s 65 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched ranks best among Rebels as well.
Earlier this season, Moore pitched Maryville by Farragut, 4-1, the Rebels the only team to defeat the defending state champions in district play this season.
“I think he (Moore) has great potential because of his size,” Gaylor said, “and he’s still learning.”
It hasn’t been a one-man show this season, Moore said.
“Last year, we had a lot of athletes, but we didn’t play well as a team,” he said. “(This season) it became a team game with more than just one or two guys doing good.”
Mound mates Tommy Wilkinson (4-1), Keylon Holloway (4-1) and Andrew Bowerman (3-1) have been equally tough to beat. Dalton Curtis has become a solid finisher, pacing the staff with four saves. Holloway has walked only seven batters in 23 innings of work.
“Our defense plays well behind them,” Gaylor said, “and they don’t walk a lot of people.”
Production at the plate has been one of the season’s most pleasant surprises, Gaylor said. Jonathan Leonard (.456), Jordan Rang (.400), Bowerman (.361), Moore (.361) and Andrew Rouse (.330) are all hitting above .300 on the year. Talley leads with a team-best 39 runs batted in.
“He’s hit it all year long and been very, very consistent,” Gaylor said.
The extra punch on offense this season is no accident, Talley said.
“We wanted to practice,” he said. “Everybody stayed extra in the (batting) cage. Coach Gaylor had to chase us off a couple of times.”
A return to football after a two year absence has had a lot to do with the senior season he’s enjoying on the diamond, Moore said. As a freshman, he wasn’t able to balance the two very well, he said.
“In football, you want to be big; you want to be strong,” he said. “In baseball, you don’t want to get that bulky.”
This past season on the gridiron, his ace got it just right, Gaylor said. The toughness it has added to Moore on the mound has been noticeable.
“He’s just mentally tougher this year than he has been,” Gaylor said. “He’s taken more of a leadership role.”
He’s been in training for that role for some time.