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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
I guess you can say I’ve become a Hot Stove baseball connoisseur of sorts over the past four decades.
After watching my son Kyle enjoy an unforgettable 2014 season as a member of Rootstown’s I League state runner-up team, I can now "report" Hot Stove memories as a player, parent and writer.
As a player, I was fortunate enough to win a state championship as the starting shortstop for the 1988 EE Palmyra Northern Steel Transport team. I went on to play in some huge games, both in future state tournaments and at Mount Union College, but I can honestly say that ’88 state title game ranks at the top of my list of the most memorable games I’ve ever played.
We led until the top of the seventh inning, when Newton Falls scored a pair of runs to take a 3-2 lead. I led off the bottom of the seventh with a single that ricocheted off the pitcher’s leg, forcing him to leave the game. Joe Romito, son of manager Bob Romito, then reached base behind me and we both later scored on Jason Dean’s game-winning smash to left field.
I still remember celebrating at home plate. And if that memory someday slips my mind, I’ll always have the front page of the August 1, 1988 Record-Courier featuring that celebration shot to jog my memory.
Another elite Hot Stove memory was a win over Alliance Varsity Isle during the H League district tournament in 1981, when I played for Atwater. That Alliance team was undefeated, and made sure everyone knew it. I still remember their team cheer — ‘1-2-3-4-5, Varsity Isle don’t take no jive; 6-7-8-9-10, back it up and do it again.’ And they did — again and again and again, loud and proud, for all at Gracie Field to hear.
That cheer, and that team’s overconfident attitude in general, fueled a fire in our little 9-year-old bellies that helped us pull off a huge upset. I was pitching when the game ended on a linedrive to our first baseman, Tommy Clegg, that I don’t think he ever saw but still somehow managed to catch. I remember running off the field and jumping into my dad’s arms, a feeling of pure joy between father and son that only a monumental triumph and a mutual love of the game can produce.
Jump ahead 26 years to last weekend, when my greatest Hot Stove memories as a parent were forged.
Kyle was fortunate enough to latch on with a great group of kids at Rootstown this season, and together they advanced to the first-ever I League State Championship game. They came up short against a very talented squad from Alliance, but got a taste of big-time baseball that should only help them develop as players and people down the road.
Kyle and I have always been close. But thanks to that state tourney run, complete with our ear-splitting jams to Volbeat on the way to every practice and game, our bond is now far stronger than ever.
As a writer, I can tell you first-hand that covering the local youth baseball and softball scene is an extremely difficult endeavor. We simply don’t have the manpower required to staff all of the tournaments, which are scattered throughout Northeast Ohio. Even with a full staff in place we’d fall well short. But toss in the fact that the month of July is typically the time when staff writers (like myself) and correspondents take time off before the beginning of the high school/college fall season, and the challenge of covering youth baseball and softball tournaments quickly becomes mission impossible.
Believe me when I say, we do our very best.
As a parent and a player, I understand how important the Hot Stove experience can be — win or lose. Hopefully the Record-Courier plays a small part in helping today’s young baseball and softball stars always remember their beloved days on the diamond.