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With the City League baseball chase fast approaching a conclusion and Division I sectional tournament play already begun, preseason league favorites Clay and St. John s Jesuit remain the top contenders for both CL and district championships.
For both, less than three weeks remain in the high school careers of several senior players who have been competing, side by side, for eight or more years.
For Clay s Eagles, those roots began as youth players in Oregon s Junior Eagles travel program.
For St. John s current varsity, which, after a 10-0 victory over Libbey Monday, led the CL with an 8-0 record (13-4 overall), the beginnings came eight years ago as part of successful travel-league team, the Glass City Indians.
That team, which began in 2000 when the current senior players were 11-year-old fifth-graders, was formed in part by St. John s baseball coach Ed Mouch and current Genoa coach Danny Clayton, who then coached at Waite.
In the next four years the Indians played more than 200 games against local, regional and national competition as they progressed to the 14-and-under division as eighth-graders.
Highlighting the team s run were appearances in a 12-and-under world series in Hopkinsville, Ky., where the Indians placed fifth, a 13-and-under world series in Tulsa, Okla., and a 14-and-under world series in Dublin, Ohio.
Seven current St. John s senior starters were part of that Glass City team, either from the beginning, or later on.
Mouch s son, Ryan, the Titans second baseman, and fourth-year varsity shortstop Val Helldobler were original members of the Indians. Third-year center fielder Ross Hartwig joined them as a 12-year-old.
I ve been playing with V [Helldobler] regularly since fifth grade, Ryan Mouch said, and it s a lot easier for us to know where each other s going to be on the field, especially when we turn double plays.
He just flips the ball to second base and doesn t even have to look. He knows I m there. Same thing with Ross and all those other guys. You know where everyone s going to be and what to expect.
Starting Titan outfielders Mike Wilson and Dan Kujawa came aboard with Glass City as 13-year-olds in 2002.
They were fun kids to be around back then, and they re still fun to be around now, coach Mouch said. They were very competitive on the field when they were young, and they re very competitive now.
Two other Titan seniors pitcher/first baseman Tim Corbey and first baseman Jake Cappelletty had competed against the Indians while playing for rival teams before joining the Glass City crew in 2003.
If you can t beat em, join em, Corbey said of becoming an Indian. That s exactly how it was. I just jumped aboard, and we just all played well together. It was a great year. We didn t lose to any teams around here.
You went out and you knew you were going to win every time. I had never had that feeling before. I thought we could make something special if we all came here, and that s what we re trying to do this year.
The summer baseball bonds were strong enough to lead seven from the group to enroll at St. John s. Only Ryan Mouch whose father played, and now coaches, basketball and baseball at St. John s likely would have become a Titan regardless.
Helldobler and Kujawa grew up in Point Place, Hartwig and Wilson in the Bowsher district, Cappelletty in the Start district, and Corbey in Ottawa Hills.
We all wanted to stay together, so a bunch of us pretty much all decided to go to St. John s, Helldobler said. That s how we came here.
I started playing baseball with Ross [Hartwig] in fourth grade and, before every game we ve played together I have always played catch with him.
It s going to be disappointing not playing with these guys at the next level, but I guess you can say that memories last forever, right?
Hartwig has enjoyed the ride.
What I remember is hanging out in hotels and being with the team almost every weekend, Hartwig said. We spent all our time either at the field or at the hotels in the pool.
When I was that young I didn t really care about anything else but playing baseball. It s good to play with people [in high school] that you played with when you were younger, because you re used to everybody and you know how everybody reacts to certain things.
In addition to the St. John s seven, three key senior members of Clayton s current Genoa team son Brooks Clayton, Ryan Gargas and Adam Schumacher were original members of the Indians.
Those were the most enjoyable four years I ve had in baseball, Clayton said of his and Mouch s double duty as high school and youth league coaches. The work ethic those kids showed and the cooperation and help we got from the parents made it a real neat time.
One memory I had that stands out was one time when we were in a tournament in Kentucky. We had just played some real big-time teams from out of town and we were getting ready to go home. We were in a parking lot and started to look for the kids.
They were all hanging around in a sandbox. They had just played in this big tournament, but there they were, still being 12-year-old kids.
Clayton s Comets who went 24-3 and won the Suburban Lakes League title with a 13-1 mark last season are 16-2 overall this year and lead the SLL at 10-0. His three Glass City products are each fourth-year varsity members at Genoa, and all rank among the SLL s top hitters.
With the [youth baseball] experience they had, almost any situation could come up in a game, and they had already seen it, coach Clayton said. That was before they got to high school.
I would say that that experience put all of those kids at least a year ahead of schedule. If a kid normally would have been ready to play on the varsity as a sophomore, these kids were ready as freshmen.
The impact of Glass City travel players doesn t stop there.
Start senior star Jason Boomer Moulton, a four-year Spartan starter and one of the CL s top players three years running, joined the Indians in 2001. Father Steve Moulton served as a Glass City coach.
Boomer, who opted to attend his father s alma mater, pitched for Start in the D-I state championship game as a sophomore, and has been among the CL s top hitters the last three years.
Steve Sumner, a Glass City alum, has started on the Whitmer varsity for four seasons. Waite senior Chad Fitch, who joined Glass City in 2002, currently ranks among the City League s top hitters. Curtis Carr, a Glass City original, is a starting outfielder for Lake.
It s been really fun as a coach at the high school level seeing these kids blossom from when they were 11, 12, 13-year-olds to where they are now, coach Mouch said. I look in the paper every day to see if one of those [other] kids has pitched or whether they were a hitting leader.
It s been great to watch them mature as baseball players and develop to where they are today. If we still had them all together on one high school team, it would be a pretty good team.
The only Glass City regular not still playing high school baseball was one of the program s top talents. Oregon resident Christian Steingraber gave up baseball to pursue his hockey aspirations full time.
The former Clay student, one of the area s top hockey talents, has played junior hockey out of state the last two years.
The success stories from this one team are impressive. Last year, as juniors, six of the Glass City products were All-City first team (Helldobler, Hartwig, Corbey, Moulton, Gargas and Clayton) while three others were second-team selections (Sumner, Cappelletty and Schumacher).
The whole idea of putting that team together was having these kids get experience that would help them when they got to high school, coach Mouch said. There s no question it was worth the time we invested because we ve gotten to see what these kids have developed into.
For St. John s this season, Hartwig is hitting .417, Wilson .408, Cappelletty .405, Helldobler .352, Kujawa .333, Corbey .313 and Mouch .276. Corbey is 2-1 pitching with a 2.63 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 24 innings.
Their work has helped St. John s to its 13-4 record, which included a 9-2 victory last Friday over Clay, which is 19-2, 7-2 and ranked seventh in the Ohio D-I coaches poll.
Also making significant contributions for the Titans have been seniors Ben Kauder (3-1 pitching, 2.25 ERA), Sean Williams (5-0, 1.59 ERA), team hitting leader K.C. Dippman (.528) and catcher Sam Kusina.