Few do it better than Disney, for vacations…and in recent years, for Spring Break baseball.
Grayslake Central has been spending its Spring Breaks down in Orlando for the last several years and has played games against teams from all over the country at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.
Sister school Grayslake North got in on the action last week for the first time in its history.
The Knights, who had been "vacationing" in southern Illinois for the past few Spring Breaks, decided after last spring that they weren't going far enough south to escape the arctic like weather that can still be hounding this area well into March.
"We were about to leave for southern Illinois last year and they got this huge snowstorm down there and we had to cancel the whole trip," Grayslake North coach Andy Strahan said. "After that, I had a parent approach me and say, 'Let's go to Florida next year.' He said he would try to organize everything and that sounded good to me, especially after having to cancel our trip."
Strahan says that to fund Spring Break trips in the past, his team would do a couple of fundraisers each year, such as selling holiday wreaths and discount cards. But Darren Ruback, the dad of outfielder Austyn Ruback, helped take the fundraising to another level in order for the Knights to be able to afford Disney.
Ruback organized the addition of a car wash and a bowling fundraiser. Strahan says Ruback then helped to organize many of the details of the trip.
"He helped us so much that for me, it was simple. I really didn't have to do much more than I normally do," Strahan said of Ruback. "He even went out and got food for the kids every day once we were down there. He made everything about the trip as stress-free as possible and when you're putting together something for 22 kids and then traveling with them by plane, that's not easy to do.
"But it was a really great trip. I really like the way Disney runs things. Everything runs so smoothly and we played some really good competition. After taking a trip like this, it makes you wonder why you would ever go anywhere else."
The Knights, who, of course, found time to visit the theme parks, got in eight games: five varsity and three junior varsity. They went 3-2 in their varsity games and were solid on defense and got some impressive pitching out of Dom DiProva, Andrew Mikusa, Jason Petrillo and JP Zalewski.
DiProva totaled eight scoreless innings on the mound while Mikusa pitched five scoreless innings against a team from Arkansas that has won three state championships in the last 10 years. Petrillo also threw three scoreless innings while Zalewski got a win and a save.
No soph slump:
It's easy to forget that Grayslake North standout Merrick Gentile is a sophomore.
Gentile not only was the Knights' starting quarterback last fall, he also started on the varsity baseball team the previous spring at third base. As a freshman.
Clearly, it hasn't all been beginner's luck.
Gentile is already putting up big numbers this baseball season. He hit a blistering .538 on Grayslake North's Spring Break trip to Disneyworld. He also stole six basses.
"He has an even better idea now of what to expect at this level," Grayslake North coach Andy Strahan said of Gentile. "He's really gotten better on the metal side of it, and when you add that to the awesome hand-eye coordination he has, that's when it gets scary."
For the first time in school history, the Wauconda baseball team left home for Spring Break.
The Bulldogs trekked down to southern Illinois last week and played three games on a turf field in Marion. Although they went 0-3, they're not ready to put the breaks on a big trip for next year.
"We played the best we could at this point, but we graduated a lot of kids from last year, so we're kind of starting over and trying to figure a lot of stuff out," Wauconda coach Bill Sliker said. "We really liked the trip, though, and we think it's a great thing for our program.
"It's great to for the kids to have something like this to look forward to, and usually you're going to get pretty good weather, so I think we'd like to keep doing it."
One bright spot for Wauconda during its trip was its pitching, led by Ben Peterson, one of the most experienced veterans on the roster. Sliker said that Brian Malisheski, Kyle Harmon, Tyler Myer and Roy Nelson also gave the Bulldogs some good innings on the mound.
Sometimes, it's the luck of the draw with these Spring Break baseball trips.
Lake Zurich coach Chuck Gandolfi says he's been to St. Louis around Spring Break and it's been in the 70s there.
But this year, the St. Louis area was just as cold as the Chicago area, which was too bad for Gandolfi's Bears. They were there last week in order to escape the cold of Chicago, but instead found very similar temperatures in the 20s and 30s.
"It was terrible weather down there," Gandolfi said. "One day we were supposed to practice and it was only 26 degrees. We lost some days, but then some of the days it got better."
The weather got good enough for the Bears to get in nine games: 5 varsity and 4 junior varsity. The varsity team went 3-2.
"We did what we needed to do down there, which was to see what guys can do under pressure," said Gandolfi, who is learning his guys on the fly in his first season as head coach. "The trip definitely opened up a couple of question marks and made us go back and make some different decisions on things."
Gandolfi says he was particularly impressed with the offense and big hits from Danny Krueger, Colton Wagner, Sam Warady, Steve Vanstedum and Nick Jones.
Here and there:
When Lake Zurich centerfielder Nick Jones wasn't coming up with big hits at the plate over Spring Break, he was coming up with big hits on the ice.
Jones is also a serious hockey player and over Spring Break, his elite travel team competed in a tournament in Iowa and South Dakota.
Jones started the break with his hockey team and then made it to Missouri to join the baseball team by Thursday of last week.
"He's a very elite hockey player and that's probably what he's going to do in college," Lake Zurich coach Chuck Gandolfi said. "But what amazes me is that he can come straight from hockey to baseball and make a lot of things look easy. I call him 'Coach Jones' because he just knows the game so well and is so smart.
"I know he loves hockey, but it's good to see him with the baseball team, too."
Grant bound for Rose Hulman:
Libertyville senior pitcher/outfielder Ian Grant has committed to play baseball for Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.
After the left-hander narrowed down offers to two Division III programs, Rose Hulman became the natural choice because it offers him the ability to study mechanical engineering while being a member of a high-quality baseball program. Rose Hulman is one of the top engineering colleges in the country, and its baseball team is a perennial contender in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Grant pitched 19 innings for Libertyville's Class 4A state runner-up team last season, posting a 2.58 ERA and striking out 12 batters.