Monday, June 21, 2010

Buckeyes baseball a labor of love

The Brunswick Buckeyes (Red) 18-and-under team, a member of the Eastern New York Travel Ball league, might not be drawing college coaches or pro scouts looking for talent. But that's just fine with the Buckeyes, who are playing for a simple love of the game.

Pat O'Byrne (above) and Ryan Paris (below) were teammates on Averill Park's Section II Class A finalist team in 2010. Not all of the Brunswick Buckeyes, however, were high school stars. (Photos by Mike McMahon - The Record).

Jarred Gravelle, who just finished his freshman year at Hudson Valley Community College, did not play high school baseball at Troy High. (Final four pictures taken from video by Will Montgomery - The Record).

"This is only place I've ever played baseball," said Gravelle, Brunswick's shortstop and No. 3 hitter. "I didn't make my high school team. I got cut. I always come here every summer and pick up right where I left off."

Josh Johnson, a former star at Tamarac High who had a wonderful 2010 season in the bullpen for the Hudson Valley Community College team, turned down other offers to come back and play for the Buckeyes. The Brunswick team allows him to catch as well, something he loves to do.
It's pretty unusual to see a player that doubles as a pitcher and a catcher at this stage of the game and Johnson enjoys the uniqueness of being able to play on both ends of the battery.

"I've been playing catcher my whole life," said Johnson. "In my opinion, it's one of the best positions you can have. At Hudson Valley, I know what the catcher is thinking and they know what I'm thinking. We communicate really well off the field, too. It's really easy to understand how they're thinking."

Kyle Keegan will graduate shortly from Averill Park High School and will continue his athletic career in college when he plays basketball for the Sage Colleges. He balances a part-time job, basketball training and his baseball schedule, all while working his way back from an injury.

Keegan's father, Mike Keegan, is the team's head coach and he has seen most of this group together since their Little League days. He drags the infield before the games, chalks the batter's box and foul lines and more or less sacrifices his summer to work with a bunch of teenagers on diamonds across the Capital Region.

Players pony up $225 to get a 22-game schedule - more are possible depending on how many tournaments the Buckeyes qualify for - but that's a tax they're willing to pay to get a chance to play the game they love.

"Aside from Brunswick, I’ve had this group since Little League," Mike Keegan said. "We’ve all been together and there’s not a one I wouldn’t go to war for. We were always taught up here that it goes: kids, family, baseball. That’s kind of like the policy up here. The parents I have, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They’re fantastic."

Cory Budesheim smacks a single in the fourth inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the Schenectady/Schoharie County Volunteers Saturday afternoon.

"They’re a tight, tight group," Mike Keegan said. "When they’re in the dugout, it’s just baseball. There is nothing else on these kid’s minds."

The team is hoping to finally get one of those elusive bids to a World Series in some far-off locale. In the meantime, they're taking it one game at a time, enjoying the game and celebrating the team chemistry that has taken years to develop.

"Pretty much just keep playing," Johnson said. "If you're playing summer ball, obviously, you want to play. So we just want to keep playing and go as far as we can. At the same time, we just have to have fun and not be too uptight or anything."



For the full story, check out Tuesday's edition of The Record. For more on the Buckeyes, check out their web site at http://leaguelineup.com/welcome.asp?url=brunswick

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