COLUMBIA — Before Saturday's game against Helias Catholic, friends and family of the seven seniors on Hickman's baseball team clapped as each player was announced.
When closer Sam Wright's name was called to complete the list, the applause escalated into shouts and cheers.
As he walked down the first base line with a bouquet of flowers in his hand, the announcer made a shocking statement about Wright.
To his mother's chagrin and the amusement of everyone else, Wright included in the program that he had done "court-mandated community service." In typical Wright style, it was nothing more than a joke — his dad, Mark Wright, is a probation and parole officer for the state of Missouri.
Sam Wright, who also included in the program that he was proud to be the "Bus Wrestling Champion" of the team, is the team's vocal leader and resident jokester.
As the team's closing pitcher, Sam Wright's position comes with a lot of pressure. On Saturday against Helias, he came in with one out left in the sixth, and his first pitch went high and resulted in a walk. That runner would eventually come around to score the tying run, pushing the game into extra innings where Hickman fell to the Crusaders in a 7-6 loss.
But the pressure hasn't kept Sam Wright from keeping himself, and his teammates, loose and relaxed.
Mark Wright said his son has had this energy and passion ever since he was a baby shaking the bars of his crib.
"This is his passion, and we talk about that in the family," Mark Wright said. "He comes to life on the field. He told me one time, 'Dad, you know how you feel when you get to the trailhead? (Wright's father enjoys hiking.) That's how I feel when I come to the baseball field and see the lights are on out there.'"
Fellow senior pitcher Jordan See has played baseball with Sam Wright since they were in Little League. See said Sam Wright's jokes and antics are always good-natured and are the reason why he loves team bus rides.
"My favorite part of being a Kewpie is the bus rides, and Sam makes that happen," See said.
Sam Wright is notorious among his teammates for the hilarity on the bus rides. Junior catcher Colby Fitch, who Wright pinch-ran for three times Saturday, has one favorite Wright-ism.
"His cowboy hat," Fitch said. "He has this cowboy hat that he wears everywhere. He wears it on game-day and it's hilarious to see."
See provides a more thorough explanation of the hilarity behind the hat.
"Sam has this cowboy impersonation," See said. "He has this call where he goes "Hyeahh!!" and it's goofy and it's wild and it's unique. It's Sam."
Along with the cowboy persona, Sam Wright has also acted as the master of ceremonies for impromptu trivia games and has defended his wrestling title in order to "put guys back in their place if they want to have a little uprising."
Sam Wright said he understands when it's time to be serious. But the bus isn't the place for that.
"On the bus, we just try to stay relaxed so we're not riding ourselves too hard," Sam Wright said.
Teammates say that Wright's jokes are always well-timed. After the loss to Helias Catholic on Saturday, he was serious as he stood in the center of the post-game huddle.
"He's a lot of fun, but when it comes down to game time he's really serious," Fitch said. "But after the victories we've had, he's a big ball of fun and likes to have a good time. He makes things interesting."
Although his dad has always told him to "Keep playing until you can't get them out anymore," Sam Wright is focused on enjoying this season as his last.
"It's the last year I'm playing ball," Sam Wright said. "Some of these guys are going on, but for the rest of us, it's the end of the road."
The Kewpies (14-7) play next at 5 p.m. on Monday at home against Rock Bridge.
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