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Published: Wednesday, 9/21/2011

Fan's big win is home run for Clay

School benefits from baseball-clinic prize

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Lake High School's Connor Bowen, left, practices his form with help from volunteer coach Roger Achter, right,  during the Chevrolet 'Diamonds and Dreams' Cal Ripken Experience baseball clinic at the Oregon Municipal Recreation Complex's Ousky Field. Lake High School's Connor Bowen, left, practices his form with help from volunteer coach Roger Achter, right, during the Chevrolet 'Diamonds and Dreams' Cal Ripken Experience baseball clinic at the Oregon Municipal Recreation Complex's Ousky Field.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Oregon's Jane Rizo is a big fan of Clay High School sports, especially of her grandson, Anthony Rizo, a senior who was a catcher on the Eagles' junior varsity baseball team last spring.

So, one day earlier this year while Jane was perusing some new cars at Dunn Chevrolet Buick in Oregon, she took the time to enter a sweepstakes contest through Chevy's Diamonds and Dreams program.

As it turned out, Jane Rizo is not only a big fan but a lucky one as well.

She was one of 20 national winners, and the Clay baseball program was the ultimate beneficiary.

Ms. Rizo's prize was a one-day, three-hour baseball clinic sponsored by Chevrolet and put on by staff members of Ripken Baseball, the organization established in Aberdeen, Md., by Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken and his brother, Bill Ripken, also a former big leaguer.

PHOTO GALLERY: Cal Ripken Experience baseball clinic

Ms. Rizo donated the clinic to the Clay baseball program, and the ball was then in the court of Eagles head coach Garry Isbell, who got busy organizing players in his program to attend and contacting coaches from other local high school teams to invite their players to take advantage of the free clinic.

It all came together on a perfect day, weather-wise, on Sept. 12 at Oregon's Ousky Field.

"My grandma was just in the [Dunn Chevrolet] dealership looking at a new car, and one of my dad's friends' sons [Jay Dunn] is a sales manager there," said Anthony Rizo, who was at the camp. "He told her about it and she entered, and she won."

The younger Rizo was impressed with the Ripken Baseball instructors, who are all ex-college baseball players.

"They were real good," Anthony Rizo said. "They worked with us a lot and they helped me out a lot. We all got our work done and we were happy at the end of the camp.

"We wanted to learn some new stuff and we definitely did. My grandma showed up and she was just happy to see all of us out there."

Tim Gebhart, an operations manager with The Ripken Academy, conducted the clinic with a small group of roving instructors who spend most of their time in the summer working at camps and clinics at the Ripken facilities in Aberdeen and in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"Chevy called us up to do these 20 clinics," said Mr. Gebhart, who played collegiate baseball at the University of Sioux Falls and at Hawaii-Hilo before joining the Ripken Baseball staff. "We are on tour here in the East Coast and Midwest. We started up in [Warren] Michigan and we're moving down to Florida."

The next stop after Oregon was Hamilton, Ohio.

A.J. Achter, left, Clay alumnus and pitcher for the Single-A Beloit (Wis.) Snappers in the Minnesota Twins organization, confers with his uncle Roger Achter as guest coaches during the free baseball clinic, which was held for children in grades 7 through 12. A.J. Achter, left, Clay alumnus and pitcher for the Single-A Beloit (Wis.) Snappers in the Minnesota Twins organization, confers with his uncle Roger Achter as guest coaches during the free baseball clinic, which was held for children in grades 7 through 12.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"Ripken Baseball also has another team [of instructors] that started out in Salt Lake City [Utah] and Washington state that's moving down the California coast," Mr. Gebhart said. "It's all in the month of September. We're on the road for 3 1/2 weeks away from our families, but we're having a good time."

Also helping out with instruction was former Clay and Michigan State University standout A.J. Achter, who recently completed his first full season as a minor-league starting pitcher for the Single-A Beloit (Wis.) Snappers in the Minnesota Twins organization.

"It was a great experience," Achter said of the clinic. "You had kids from different high schools learning from guys who have been around the game. I just wanted to come out and help any way I could. I wish we would've had something like this more often when I was younger, because it was really a great experience.

"There weren't too many things like this around Toledo and Oregon. So, we were fortunate to have this come to Oregon. The turnout was real nice. I liked meeting people from different parts of the country, and everybody was real personable and asked questions.

"The kids got to learn about different things from the game of baseball. To pass it along to younger kids in high school and younger is always the most enjoyable part of doing something like this."

Kids from grades 7-12 attended the camp, which ran from 4 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 12.

"I thought it went great," Coach Isbell said. "We had great weather, a good turnout of about 60 kids, and we had a good core of kids from Clay, plus kids from St. John's, St. Francis, Waite, Lake, and Cardinal Stritch. It was definitely good to see a mesh of different types of players from the surrounding area high schools.

"I thought they had a good time and learned a lot, and we [coaches] learned a lot of different drills. It was a very productive day. The guys who put it on did a phenomenal job. It was very well run, and had very good instruction. They were very thorough with each individual kid throughout the whole three hours. They gave things, pulled kids aside and gave a lot of individual attention. Every kid came out of here with something today, and that's what it's all about."

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.



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