Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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There’s a lot of reasons why the state baseball tournament is the best of all the OHSAA championship.  And baseball itself  is just “part” of the reason.

Someone’s going to moan at the title of this column and say, “Good Lord, there he goes again.  Another insufferable tribute to baseball.”

Football coaches and football fans will read this and say to themselves (or out loud, I suppose), “Up yours.  Football rules in Ohio.”

Basketball coaches and their gym rat proteges will disagree, saying that all the real Division I college talent in the state is to be found in the inner-cities of Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Dayton, and not out in some corn field playing Division IV baseball in Licking County.

The softball community will cry out that equal opportunity exists for the girls, and for the sake of the quality of their event this weekend there is no argument here.  It will be competitive and a great value for the fan, as well, just like baseball.

The track community huffs and asks, “Will anyone even notice that our championship is going on?”  Track, you see, pales in media attention to many of the other OHSAA events, and has for years.

And finally, athletic directors will pull out their financial ledgers and stick it in my face (they have before), and say, “We don’t make a dime off baseball.  Show me the money.”  One actually said that to me a couple of years ago and I couldn’t resist.  I answered to him, “Show me some sincerity when you say it’s all about the kids.”  He didn’t answer.

(Shill;  noun: 1. an accomplice of a hawker or gambler, who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others)  –  Source:  Webster’s

Alright, I am a shill for baseball, always have been and always will be.  And since attending my first OHSAA state baseball tournament several years ago I profess to be the most vocal advocate among all that walk the beat among Ohio prep sportswriters.  Baseball is the best of the state’s championship events.  My list of reasons, personal and professional, is broad.

Huntington Park, home of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, is pure “eye candy” for the baseball purist.

1)  The venue is breathtaking…Huntington Park in downtown Columbus, in the Arena District with lots to see and do, great eateries (and drinkeries), the home of the Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers.  It’s a brand new park, with a gorgeous natural surface, and it’s twice been voted as the #1-minor league ballpark in America for its looks, comfort, and overall amenities.  Sorry football geeks, it just looks better and feels more intimate than the “horse shoe” (which, by the way, doesn’t look so much like a horse shoe anymore).

2)  It’s a great fan value.  You pay one price in the morning and watch baseball all day without having to clear the arena and buy another ticket to see another game.  I know the OHSAA needs to make a profit, but it’s also no mystery to me that as gas and travel prices have risen in recent years, along with the price of football and basketball tickets for the state tournament, attendance has suffered, as well.  It’s hard, financially, to bring your family to the state basketball tourney all day.  Baseball is another matter.  Ernie Banks (“Let’s play two, or three, or four.”) would love it!

3) It’s so comfortable…and who doesn’t like to sit outside in 80-degree weather after the kind of winter and spring we’ve had?  And no one ever hassles you about having a ticket for the seat you’re in.

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4)  It’s competitive.  I can count on one hand all the non-competitive (or run rule) games that I’ve seen at the state tournament over the years.  And I cannot count on both hands the number of times that I’ve seen teams come back from big deficits to make it interesting in the seventh inning, thanks to the aluminum bat and high school pitchers who tend to throw the ball right down the middle of the plate.

5)  From a professional purist point of view…you don’t see pro scouts at track and field and softball.  College scouts, of course, but it’s always a kick for me to go to the state tournament and see a Jack Hiatt (San Francisco Giants) there to give one final look-see before the amateur draft.  I worked with Hiatt during my years in the minor leagues and he tells the best war stories!

6)  And finally, it’s compelling.  Yes, it’s compelling for the fact of having a team this year, Ft. Recovery, attempting for a second time to win its first baseball title in school history.  That same dynamic with Tri-Village made last year’s basketball tournament one of the best in years.

Plus, there are the perennials, like Moeller (not this year), who like them or not play for keeps and always bring a great player pedigree.  Check out the Crusaders’ alumni list sometime…the Bells, Barry Larkin, and Ken Griffey Jr., to start.

And, I think baseball is the toughest title of all to win;  and tougher than football and basketball…because of pitching.  You have to have it.  You can’t have too much of it.  And usually you don’t have enough of it to even get to the state tournament.

Ft. Recovery will make its second state tournament appearance this week…since 1953!

Football coaches, argue all you want, but you can scheme your game to match personnel.  Likewise, in basketball.

But in baseball it all starts with that guy standing on the bump in the middle of the infield.  If he doesn’t throw strikes (and competitive ones, at that) it doesn’t matter how you scheme, or how you play.  If you don’t pitch nothing else matters.

At Wheelersburg it is a big deal even on years when they don’t get to the tournament.  And why do we even write about the Pirates, three hours away, as we’re prone to do at least once a season?

Well for one, their legacy is no less glamorous for the true baseball fan than Moeller’s.  The Crusaders have Ken Griffey and Barry Larkin.  Wheelersburg, among its alumni, has long-time Reds scout, Gene Bennett, the man who signed Barry Larkin, Don Gullett, Chris Sabo and Paul O’Neill..  The baseball complex in town is named for him, a point of pride among the locals.  And when the Pirates won their consecutive titles in 2012 and ’13, the 86-year-old Bennett was front and center, sitting behind home plate, taking it all in.

Second, their coach is that guy that people point to and say “role model”, the kind of man you want your kid to grow up to be.  Mike Estep is a former Ohio State infielder for then coach Bob Todd.  He teaches junior high science in Wheelersburg, and goes on mission trips during the off-season…because he wants to.

Compelling?  Ft. Recovery will have to again go through Newark Catholic to get that first title, and Newark will be back this year seeking their ninth!  Only one school in the entire state has more…Elder!  The Green Wave is the standard in small school baseball, led by veteran coach John Cannizzaro.

So yeah, I think it’s the best tournament of all the OHSAA events, and while Commissioner Dan Ross won’t admit it…I think he’s glad that I do put him on the spot by asking him each year to agree with me.  He just smiles, appreciatively.

Some people, you see, like a shill.

The Spot is proud to sponsor coverage of the state baseball tournament on Press Pros Magazine.com.

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