Ricardo Lizcano has seen some ups and downs during his four-year varsity baseball career at Start, and is hoping to close things on the up side.
Better known to his Spartan teammates as Ricky, Lizcano was a small player on a big stage as a freshman.
At a mere 5-foot-5 and 116 pounds, he started at second base and batted a respectable .320 in 2005 when Start (25-4) advanced to the Division I state championship game before losing to Cincinnati Elder 3-0 in Dayton.
I was lucky and fortunate to be on that team with all those good seniors, Lizcano said.
He hit .417 in earning All-City League first-team honors as a sophomore, and repeated that honor last season when he played shortstop, pitched and was second in the CL batting race at .477.
It s been a fun experience, Lizcano said. What I ve learned from all the seniors in the past years is what I can bring to my senior year for all the underclassmen now.
Individual success aside, Lizcano was disappointed by an unexpected team dip in 2007. Start, a perennial City and state power, finished 13-9 overall, was eliminated from tourney play in the sectional final for the second straight year, and missed the CL playoffs for just the second time in 21 seasons.
I really feel like it s our year to put up a [league or tournament] banner for the first time since my freshman year, Lizcano said.
Now a physically matured 5-11 and 165 pounds, Lizcano plays the role of team leader on a relatively experienced team which hopes to show that 2007 was a departure from a strong tradition.
The Spartans have won eight CL titles in 16 title-game appearances under 33rd-year head coach Rich Arbinger, who guided Start to state titles in 1994 and 2000, to runner-up finishes in 1987, 1997 and 2005, and to two other state semifinals.
So far the 2008 Spartans seem back on track. With a league win Monday over Rogers, Start climbed to 12-2 overall and 5-2 in CL play. Start s losses were by 2-1 and 3-2, respectively, against current league leaders Central Catholic (6-1 CL) and St. Francis de Sales (7-0), which were to meet in a first-place league showdown last night.
For his part, Lizcano is playing a more versatile role this year for Arbinger, adding stints in center field to his usual shortstop-pitcher duties.
Ricky s a fine player, and he s been a very good person, said Arbinger, whose 734 wins rank him fifth all-time among Ohio baseball coaches. This year he s our leader, and hopefully he can lead us to good things.
Ricky can play most anywhere. He s good at everything, so we put him at whatever spot where we feel he can help the team the most. When he was a freshman we played in the state championship. He was a freshman playing on a big stage. He leads by example and hopefully the kids will follow his lead.
Lizcano is hitting .550 (22 for 40) with 18 runs scored. He has also posted a 4-1 mound record with a 1.64 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 281/3 innings.
It was just [a matter of] maturing with my body, Lizcano said of his steady improvement. Freshman year I was more of a hit-to-right-field guy. I ve learned that s not the only way to go. You can go gap to gap.
The biggest thing I ve learned is that you don t have to get a hit everyat-bat. It s not how many you get, it s when you get them for your team. Now I m able to pull the ball and hit farther, and really drive the gaps.
Lizcano is one of six returning starters, joining two third-year veterans senior Mike Szmania (3B-P) and junior Garrett Busch (CF-P). Phil Macias (OF), Kyle Maran (IF-OF) and Joe Maurer (C) are second-year starters, and senior transfer Aaron Koonce (P-IF) adds the experience he gained on the St. John s Jesuit varsity last season.
It is a group that Lizcano believes can compete for a CL title and make a solid tournament run.
We had high expectations and a big target on our backs, Lizcano said. When we fell to 13-9 at the end of the season it was like, Whoa, what happened? This year we re anxious to prove that last year was a fluke and that wasn t the normal Start.
Lizcano will continue his baseball career at Heidelberg College next year, at which time he will have to break ties with his longstanding coach father Pete Lizcano.
Since Ricky started in organized baseball at age 6, Pete has been alongside to guide him, through the youth ranks and on to Start, where dad is a fourth-year assistant.
Ricky admittedly has challenged his father s baseball wisdom and tested his patience at times, but Pete has the experience and the credentials to hold his son s attention.
The elder Lizcano, 45, was an All-City first-team shortstop for Libbey in 1980, and has coached baseball for more than 20 years. Older sons Mike (Start graduate, 1998) and Pete (2003) preceded their brother on the Spartan roster. Sister Kristin (2002) played softball for Start. Mother Cheryl Lizcano was a 1980 Start graduate.
We ve had our ups and downs, Ricky said of playing for Pete. We butt heads because we re pretty similar on how the game is played. I ve learned so much from him. It s amazing how much he knows and how he can turn kids around. He s an amazing guy.
The big thing I ve gotten from him is just to have fun. If you take it too seriously it s not going to be fun at all. He s been my coach since I was 6 years old coach-pitch up through Pee Wee and Colt and into high school. He still helps me.
Pete accepts some credit for Ricky s growth as a player, but also lauds the pitching tutelage provided by former Whitmer and minor-league pitcher Tony LaPoint, who helped Pete coach Ricky s youth travel team, the NWO Wildcats, from 2001-2005.
I just want him to know baseball and understand the game because he loves playing it, Pete said. Yes, we ve had our differences at times, but he found out that I win in the long run. So, he kind of toned it down a little bit and learned how to play baseball.
I tried to teach him discipline, sportsmanship and hard work. That ll get you to where you want to be. Ever since he first had a bat in his hand it s something that he just wanted to do. He likes it and he doesn t have to be pushed.
Pete is pleased with Ricky s development.
He s fundamentally sound, he understands the game, he tries to help everybody around him get better, he s a good team player, he has good sportsmanship, and he just loves the game, said Pete, who will break his 12-year coaching run with Ricky next year.
It s going to be hard when he goes off to college. But, I ll be there watching him and being a father to him. We can always come over to Bowman Park and get in the batting cage if he s struggling.