Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball career as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites, and for eight years served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by Morningside Books, in Dayton, Ohio.  Widely knowledgable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the country.  Involved with a number of writing projects, he and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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As the state baseball tournament kicks off this week, some thoughts about a lack of “favorites” on the field, but made “favorites” by the men making out the lineups.

The state baseball tournament process starts this week.  That’s right, a scant six weeks after most area teams threw their first pitch on that Monday immediately following the state basketball tournament.  What was that, now….March 26?

That’s amazing to me as a fan of baseball, and as a supporter of the sport at its purest amateur level.  Because, consider.  In those six weeks most area teams have played 25 games.  And if you consider rainouts and makeups some have recently played as many as six in a week, the same number the Reds played last week!

Frankly, that’s a lot to ask of an amateur athlete in any sport, particularly a high school athlete who balances competition with the classroom.  And I say all this with some cynicism over the notion set down by the governing bodies, individual conferences and the OHSAA, that we’re doing what’s best for the kids. 

And if you can find it in yourself to swallow that 25 baseball or softball games in six weeks is as competitively fair as 10 football games in ten weeks…or 20 basketball games in twelve weeks…you need to swallow that with an Advil chaser.

It’s why baseball parents grumble and growl.

It’s why you perhaps respect the top athletes in the sport more than those of the other sports…for their having to compete through such a scheduling disadvantage, and without complaint.  What choice do you have?  You just play.

It’s what makes you cynical as an onlooker, or as one who covers the action, when you see neighboring states that actually play their seasons over a 10-week period…from the first of May through the 4th of July! 

Cynical when you hear people swear that they’re just doing what’s best for kids.  And how can you pretend to be sincere with such words when you ask a high school sophomore to play 25 games in six weeks during a typical Ohio spring, and 40-degree weather?

I hope that can change.  I hope it WILL change, as OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross offered as a possibility last year in an interview with Press Pros.  They say they’re looking to see how states like Iowa are doing it…playing their spring schedules during the warm months of May and June, and beyond graduation,  to offer kids the same competitive conditions weather-wise as football gets in the fall and basketball gets in the winter.

That said, we are where we are…on the brink of another tournament run that will conclude one month from last weekend in beautiful Huntington Park in downtown Columbus. 

And let me say this.  We may not have the best weather with the best competitive conditions along the way, but no one does a state tournament with more class and style than the OHSAA when you consider where its staged in the gorgeous confines of the state capital’s arena district.  Eye-popping, if you’ve yet to see it.

And that said, some consideration as to the class of Ohio baseball in 2012.  Who are the teams favored to be in Columbus…from Divisions I, II, III and IV?

None, really.  It’s that wide open in terms of the competitive template.  Some old familiar names, for sure.  And perhaps more important, some familiar coaching names who will, by the time they’ve played their 25 regular-season games,  have their teams at their competitive pinnacle.

In Division I…coach Tim Held will certainly be formidable out of Moeller High School with another committed, over-achieving group.  But not without the typical, and formidable, challenge from the likes of Elder and Mason…and in our own midst, Centerville and Springboro.  Remember, all it takes is one confident pitcher on a given day to upset the entire tournament picture within a division.  Just ask the Springfield Tigers (Mahoning County), who came out of nowhere and northeast Ohio to challenge Minster for last year’s Division IV title.

In Division II…Tom Held, at Defiance, sits atop the latest coaches poll, a school with a rich baseball tradition and one especially rich in pitching.  But Division II is also one that seems to regularly have the most balanced competition from the state’s other regions…Jonathan Alder makes another run this year, Columbus DeSales is again fortified with strong pitching, Edison, Bellevue, and Cambridge, from Guernsey County. 

For years northeast Ohio has been well represented by perennial Division II powerhouse Walsh Jesuit.

Locally, Bruce Cahill’s Tipp City Red Devils and its young and impressive pitching could break the hearts of some favoreds. 

Wide open?  Believe it in Division II.

 

Wheelersburg's Mike Estep (above, right) is recognized as one of Division III's best young coaches. His Pirates will be seeking their third Final Four appearance in five years.

In Division III…Summit Country Day is strong out of Cincinnati, and further to the east another banner year for the Portsmouth and Wheelersburg communities.  Locally, Versailles and Coldwater out of the MAC have a great opportunity to advance, and are being considered as such in places like Cincinnati, Portsmouth and Wheelersburg.

And in Division IV…Where the rest of state perennially casts its eye for a sign of the next small-school champion, the perennials will not doubt again be formidable. 

Defending champion Minster has reloaded and retooled. 

Loramie, even younger with two freshmen in its recent lineup, will be in the mix.  Russia must be considered. 

And Bethel, which seems to cycle around every six to eight years sits high in the most recent coaches poll with an 18-3 regular season mark.  Brett Brookhart has effective pitching and senior hitters in the middle of his batting order that can thump it.  In high school baseball, that’s sometimes enough.

And while area Division IV is also wide open, given its youth, it’s also significant to consider coaching names like Mike Wiss (Minster), Bill Sturwold (Ft. Loramie), Brookhart (Bethel), and Rick Gold (Russia), those whose managerial attributes seem to kick in right about the time the regular season comes to a close and the second season opens.  Spring training, the trying days of 40-degree baseball, have served them well.

Remember, Minster was 7-6 at last year’s tournament draw, and went on to win the title.

And this reminder…six-time Division IV champion Newark Catholic will be out there, 12-7 as of last week’s rankings, but nonetheless, John Cannizaro’s team plays all comers so some of those seven losses are against better-than-average Division IV competition.

It will be interesting, and predictable, and yet unpredictable.  Want to know who this year’s favorites are?  Look at the men making out the lineups and do your own math.  But everyone of them will tell you…all it takes is one pitcher having a good day to ruin yours.

Wide open…and beautiful, if and when you get to Columbus!

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