Kent Roosevelt's Pat Smith, Ravenna's Jeff Kirby and Crestwood's Cody Kothera got to take the field in the major league ballpark as representatives of Portage County in the Second annual Northeast Ohio Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Game.
The game pitted the Portage County stars along with standouts from Trumbull, Ashtabula and Columbiana counties in a nine-inning exhibition game against a squad formed from Lake and Geauga counties.
Portage County was also represented in the dugout as Ravenna head coach Guy Tontimonia served as a coach for the Portage squad. The thrill of playing in a big league stadium serves a just reward for top athletes in recognition of a great season.
"This is a great thing for the kids," said Tontimonia. "It's too bad we couldn't have gotten more kids on the team though, but the kids who got to play just loved it."
The Portage squad got off to an early lead with some fireworks being provided by Smith. The Rough Rider smacked a two-run double off the left-field wall and later scored on a double steal to put the Portage squad up 5-0 in the fourth inning.
"It was really nice to play here and to get a hit in my first at-bat," said Smith. "I really had a good time and I'm glad I was picked to come here."
Offensive success is nothing new to Smith who hit .543 in 2000, but playing defense was just as big a thrill. The shortstop got to take the field in the same place as one of his heroes, the Indians acrobatic Omar Vizquel.
"It was neat to play in the same spot as Omar," said Smith.
Ravenna senior Jeff Kirby was not as lucky at the plate as Smith. Kirby, a third baseman who batted .413 with four home runs and 24 RBI this spring, did not see a good pitch in either of his two at-bats, drawing a pair of walks.
"I really didn't see any pitches," said Kirby. "I took a few swings in the second at-bat but they were bad pitches and I was just swinging at everything. This was an awesome experience, to play on the same field as some of the best players in the world."
Playing in Jacobs Field is nothing new to Kothera as the Crestwood senior has now played in the ballpark three times. Crestwood has competed in the Indians' Summer Tournament in the past and Kothera was the first Crestwood athlete to record a hit in the stadium.
"I played here before, but this is still a great experience," said Kothera. "It's a lot of fun to play here and to play with some of the best players around."
Kothera, who hit .381 in 2000 for the Red Devils, didn't see much playing time in the game despite getting the starting nod at second base. In his only plate appearance, Kothera chopped a ground ball to the pitcher but reached base as the first baseman pulled his foot. Kothera did show his stuff in the field though, converting a ground ball into an out and working a successful pickoff play.
Despite the efforts of the local athletes and an early 5-0 lead, the Portage team saw their rivals mount a comeback. The team from Lake and Geauga counties rallied for three runs in the fifth and five runs in the sixth on their way to an 11-8 decision.
Northeast Ohio Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Game
Lake/Geauga 11, Portage/Trumbull/Ashtabula/Columbiana 8
(At Jacobs Field, Cleveland)