The locker room might not be the swankiest, but it will be talked about with the same esteem.
When Libertyville played a nonconference game at Miller Park in Milwaukee last week, one of the most memorable parts of the experience happened before the first pitch was even thrown, before the players even took the field.
“We've been playing there every season for about eight years now and we always get the umpire's locker room and that's the room where they store the famous sausage costumes for Brewers games,” Libertyville coach Jim Schurr said with a laugh. “It's pretty cool to see those things with the heads and everything. The kids love that.”
The Wildcats love their trip to Milwaukee for other reasons. Not only do they get to enjoy the rare experience of playing on a Major League field, they're also earning money toward their annual spring break trip to Arizona. The Miller Park game, which was played this year against Racine Park (Wisc.) High School, is Libertyville's biggest spring break fundraiser. The team gets a portion of the ticket sales that come from their friends, family and fans.
“It's been a great experience going up to Miller Park,” Schurr said. “Who wouldn't want to play on a Major League field? And it's been a great way for us to keep our spring break trip going.
“We just found out that we may be involved in a similar game next year (at U.S. Cellular Field). It's possible we could be playing on two Major League fields next season.”
Sunday soldiers: While some players rest on Sundays, a handful of Libertyville baseball players keep up the hard work.
Coach Jim Schurr says that the most special part of his 11-3 team has been its relentless work ethic.
“I live in town and sometimes I'll drive by school on a Sunday and I'll see a bunch of our guys out on the field, playing catch or working on ground balls, getting in the cages a little bit,” Schurr said. “They don't have to be there, they just come on their own. It's pretty cool to see that.
“It's not just one or two kids who come over with their dads for extra practice. It's players coming over with each other, and it's quite a few of them. We've got a lot of guys who've got these great internal motors and work ethic and they push each other. They're never content.”
The Wildcats are rarely ever done either.
Even after an official practice, they don't want to call it a day.
“They want to keep practicing,” Schurr said. “We'll be done with practice and they want to keep going. I've never seen anything like it, especially with the number of guys who are like that and the magnitude to which they take this. They just want to keep playing and playing and I think that drive is a big reason we've gotten off to such a good start.”
Spreading the wealth: Rainouts during March and April have played havoc with baseball schedules all over Lake County this season. Now, as the weather improves, the rescheduled games will be piling up over the coming weeks and teams will be forced to play games nearly every day.
At Grant, the attitude is: bring it on.
The 10-4 Bulldogs aren't worried about running out of pitchers or running their top players ragged. Depth and talent across the board has been the team's biggest strength all season. No one player should be stretched too thin.
This season, the Bulldogs have often had nearly everyone involved, much like they did last season in advancing downstate.
“It's been a lot of team stuff again this year,” Grant coach Dave Behm said. “We have a lot of guys stepping up. We have different guys getting the big hit, like Simeon Lucas and Jordan Villarreal and Ryan Noda have all stepped up at the plate in recent games. And different pitchers are getting it done, too.”
Among the pitchers, Doug Murphy has 3 wins for the Bulldogs while Noda and Jake Trumpis have 2 wins apiece.
“I think we'll continue to see (wins) spread out like that because we have so many games coming up, but we're ready for that,” Behm said. “We have a lot of good (starting) pitchers and we also have some really good guys in the bullpen.
“Our guys got a lot of confidence last year when we went downstate and I think you're seeing that with the way everyone is playing this year. They're all really confident. We're getting contributions from a lot of different people.”
Steals king Jake Ring is still stealing bases for Grant.
He's just not doing it at the ridiculous pace he set two years ago as a sophomore when he finished with an eye-popping 40 stolen bases.
Ring had 9 stolen bases through the Bulldogs' first 13 games.
Grant coach Dave Behm says the slowdown is less of a commentary on Ring and more on the improvement of the players around him.
“We really have such a good lineup this year,” Behm said. “Jake now has guys who have gotten on in front of him a lot of the time and he just doesn't have the opportunity to steal. But when he does have the opportunity, he's doing a really nice job. He's still got a good amount of steals.”
Ring, who signed with Missouri in the off-season, quickly jumped on the college scouts' radar with his big base-running numbers two years ago. He also gained notice by playing in several big showcases over the last year, as well as the prestigious area code games in California.
Oldies have been good:
With only one full-time returning starter back from last season, Grayslake Central's lineup is filled with new faces.
But the three most experienced players to return, starting shortstop Ryan Fontana, senior Kyle Balling and junior Matt Loeffl, have managed to stick out, just as the Rams needed them to do.
“You know, we don't have a successful season if the few veterans we have aren't playing consistently,” said Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen, whose team was 11-7 as of Thursday. “Kyle has been our most consistent hitter. He's at about .465. Matt is at about .370 and he's been big for us because we were able to move him successfully from third base to centerfield and he's done real well out there. Ryan got out to a tough start with his hitting but he's so valuable for us because of everything else he can do. He can go 0-for-4 at the plate but win a game for us with the plays he makes at shortstop.”
Oftentimes, believing is the biggest difference between a senior pitcher and a younger pitcher.
Older pitchers, says Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen, believe in themselves. Rams ace pitcher Kevin Peloza is the perfect example.
Peloza has just 2 wins on the season, but he's also sitting on 3 no decisions. His earned run average is stellar at 1.2. He's also got 32 strikeouts in 24 innings.
“As a senior, Kevin is pitching with so much more confidence than he did last year,” Whalen said. “It's all about trust. He believes in himself. He believes he has good stuff this year. He trusts it.
“Kevin is now in attack mode when he pitches and that comes from that confidence. You won't see that in a lot of pitchers until they get older. When they're young, they start to second-guess themselves and look at us in the dugout when things go bad. You've got to trust in what you're doing and trust in your ability to put the train back on the tracks and make adjustments from the mound. That's what Kevin is doing. He's a 'get it and throw it' kind of guy this year and our guys love playing behind him.”
Quote of the week:
Pretty much everyone in high school sports agrees that the cold and rainy weather this spring has been the worst in years. Some would even say in decades.
But Grayslake Central baseball coach Troy Whalen has managed to find a positive: “The umps don't want to be out in this terrible weather any more than the coaches and the players do, so you see the strike zone get a lot bigger. It's kind of nice because our games have been a lot faster this season.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.