Wednesday, June 29, 2011

HS coach's wife battles cancer

Better days

Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: August 27, 1999
Page: 1
Section: SportsXtra

Rose Drach knew what was coming and knew the only way to meet it was head on. She would get mouth sores and fatigue and lose her hair. If she wanted less agony, there would be more nausea; that's the deal she had to make with the pain medicine.

Rose, a dean at Naperville Central and wife of St. Charles football coach Buck Drach, didn't know everything.

The recurrence of the rare sinus cancer doctors discovered four years earlier, in 1991, brought new evils.

A surgeon removed a chunk of her face under an eye and next to the bridge of the nose, and when her body rejected the titanium plate put in to support the eye, the screws started to push through the skin.

There was enough scar tissue to support the eye, but the radiation-ravaged skin would no longer regenerate to cover the hole, which was about the size of the end of a pinky.

Surgery eventually covered the gap with forehead skin, but the eye doesn't close all the way now, and Rose keeps it moist with a salve. Because of damage to the tear duct, it tears constantly.

Rose had to start irrigating her open sinus cavity with a Water Pic, and because of scar tissue she could barley open her mouth. The humidity in the Drach home had to be kept at 95 percent.

She hadn't seen all that coming, but instead of giving in, Rose chose to give. Again.

* * *

Rose and modern medicine had beaten back the cancer in 1991.

She lost 40 pounds, and though she could only handle two of the three prescribed rounds of chemotherapy, the tumors shrank.

Two days before the Saints' 1993 season opener with Streamwood, doctors diagnosed one of Streamwood's captains, Greg Wajs, with a cancer similar to Rose's.

Rose and Buck shared everything they had learned with Wajs during his nine-month treatment.

The couple introduced him to the right doctors, took him to treatments and calmed his Polish parents, who didn't speak much English.

"It was amazing what they did for him," says Streamwood football coach John Padjen, then in his first year with the Sabres. "It's hard to explain the total unselfishness and willingness to help."

Buck Drach and Padjen began a postgame tradition that year. Each would talk to the other's team, and not about the game just completed.

The 1996 game was no different, except that Rose did the talking. The effects of her second battle with the cancer were obvious, yet she wanted to thank the Sabres for their help in raising funds for her and Buck.

Streamwood had lost a game it thought it should have won.

"It was a very emotional time for our players," Padjen says. "(Rose) helped them understand what they were there for instead of just football.

"It is something we have continuously used in our program, that we're not only here for football."

Wajs is now cancer-free and a college student.

Rose's cancer has spread to her liver and bones.

* * *

Buck practically bursts when he recalls meeting Rose.

He was, and still is, a dean at St. Charles, and Rose was teaching kids with behavior disorders at St. Charles. She'd had some sort of episode with a student and charged into the dean's office swearing up a storm.

"I thought she was a longshoreman," he laughs. "She's got quite a spunk to her."

They married in 1991 and had an instant family. Buck had two kids from a previous marriage, and she had one.

Cancer has been a part of the clan, too, but depression and self-pity are not allowed in the home the Drachs have made.

"It's been awfully easy for me, because I see what she goes through and see how she handles it," he says. "It's just unbelievable. She's absolutely amazing.

"She's got a tremendously positive attitude. She just won't let it beat her. She's got some goals in life; she wants to see her (eighth-grade) son (Brandon) graduate from high school and college.

"She's a fighter. She's unbelievable."

* * *

Rose and Buck and Brandon moved into a new home this summer - "We love it," Buck says - and they thought the pain Rose felt in her back and hip was from packing boxes and lifting them.

Rose visited a chiropractor, who gave her acupuncture which caused flu-like symptoms that were expected but didn't go away.

She entered a hospital with fatigue, nausea and increasing pain. A bone scan done to investigate high calcium levels revealed the second recurrence.

Rose knows what's coming, and knows the only way to meet it is head on.

"That's the hardest thing for me, to see her frustrated," Buck says. "There's nothing I can say or do to change it."

For the first time, Rose's doctors have mentioned life expectancy. They say this time the treatment is not for curing but for extending, for turning months into years.

"I've given that a lot of thought," Buck says on one of the few days he shows up for Saints preseason practice. "In one way, we're probably lucky.

"You pick up the newspaper, and somebody's killed on the road or someone's killed by a misguided bullet. Those people didn't get a chance to say goodbye.

"In a way, I feel pretty damn lucky that I don't have to put stuff off until tomorrow. I can do stuff today."

* * *

Today. Opening night of the 1999 IHSA football season.

There will be two football games at St. Charles High School, one for the sophomores at 6 p.m., followed by the varsity battle. Evanston, one of the Chicago area's best programs, is the opponent.

Buck's players know everything about Rose that he knows. Buck's assistant coaches may know more about Buck's players than Buck knows.

Buck made it to about half the practices, and then was sometimes only half there.

"As a team, we think of ourselves as a big family," says senior linebacker Josh Pease, whose older brother Jason organized a fund-raising run for Rose during the first recurrence.

"When something like this happens, it's pretty heavy, so we all come together."

Buck says Rose's eight-year ordeal has helped turn outward the support the St. Charles athletic department has shown him and Rose.

"You have to be there when you're needed," Saints athletic director Wayne DeMaar says.

There are giving trees and visits to nursing homes and donations to food pantries. There was fund-raising for the family of Rachel Heaton, a St. Charles native now living in Geneva who has battled cancer for most of her 14 years.

The wrestling team helps counsel residents of the St. Charles campus of the Glenwood School for Boys, a boarding school for boys from troubled or poor homes.

The giving didn't all start in 1991, but it has expanded since then. A coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe it's the same kind of coincidence that gave Wajs the rare form of cancer Rose has and put him on a football team that was playing her husband's team two days after it was diagnosed.

Buck is sure of one thing. He's always been sure of it.

"We'll be a much better team because of this," he says. "These kids are better off because they're finding out what's really important in life.

"It's not football. It's their friends and family."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Old-school Hall of Fame HS football coach writes children's story

Don't judge this coach by his cover
Author(s):    Joe Bush
Date: January 19, 2001
Page: 1
Section: SportsXtra
Jerry Auchstetter watches movies like "Blue Chips", "Any Given Sunday" or "Remember the Titans," and he seethes. Wild-eyed coaches busting their lungs to motivate their players.

"Coaches get stereotyped a little too much," he says. "I'd like to break out of that mold."

Auchstetter - an IHSA Hall of Fame football coach who guided Geneva to a 153-43-1 record in 20 seasons - means this on a few levels.

He's written and published not a children's book, but a grandchildren's book.

It's titled "Boney," and it's set in North Dakota and features a grandpa and a grandkid and the title character, a mutt that the grandpa discovers half-dead and that heals into a hero.

Auchstetter began writing the story to let his seven grandkids know that he loved them and not to judge people or things by first impression.

The book is dedicated to 11-year-olds Kelsey and Alex, second- grader Tyler, first-grader Richie, kindergartner Maddie, 18-month- old Adam and 3-year-old Austin.

They don't know their grandpa as a legendary football mentor or onetime Vikings athletic director, so his budding and perhaps one- book literary career won't be as surprising to them as it is to adults who know him.

"The biggest part of the book is trying to show people another side of him," says Auchstetter's son, Steve, father of Adam and Austin.

Auchstetter the Elder admits it: he was the stereotypical stoic, steely, take-no-mess, old-school, mud-and-blood football coach.

"You've gotta be firm, you've gotta be tough," Auchstetter says of his peer-group coaching style. "In the '70s and '80s we were a little more tough on discipline."

For Auchstetter, respect was a quiet affair.

"People always knew what he meant," says Steve, a Kaneland varsity football assistant. "He never had to yell."

So sure, Boney goes from barely surviving a wild-dog-pack attack to earning a spot in a pet hall of fame and the reader sees that scarred is only skin deep.

Unless the reader knew Auchstetter, however, the full effect of the moral of the story would be missed.

He started putting together the story two years ago, mostly while jogging. Auchstetter read advice from the lady who wrote "Shiloh," another dog story, that sitting in a comfortable chair listening to soothing music was a good way to compose.

"I tried that and fell asleep," he says with a laugh.

Some of the 170-page book came from his past, some from his imagination. The Mendota, Ill., native knew rural folk and their ways from his days spent visiting his grandfather's farm in Earlville.

Boney's name came from a dog left on the doorstep of his wife Linda's sister, who lived in Jefferson, Mo.

A festival from the story sprung from Auchstetter's childhood memories, as did a territorial rooster that used to chase him around the Earlville homestead.

In the book, which is written for middle-school-aged kids, the rooster gets after Boney.

"Some things you never forget," he says. "(The book) probably tells more about me than what I displayed as a coach."

There are seven characters in the story who were Auchstetter's favorites. They are named Kelsey, Alex, Tyler, Richie, Maddie, Adam and Austin.

Adam was born while Auchstetter was halfway through the book, so he had to add another character.

With the book done and for sale at the Geneva Borders as well as at, Steve had a question for his dad.

"What if there's another grandchild?"

"I guess I'd write a sequel."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jerry Hairston Jr. has a chip on his shoulder, like his dad did

HighBeam Research

Title: Jerry Hairston Jr. can be measured by the size of his heart.(Sports)

Date: June 4, 1997 Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Sometimes you have to look hard to see a resemblance between father and son. Sometimes, you just have to listen.
Former White Sox player Jerry Hairston and his oldest son, also named Jerry, don't look too much alike. They're the same size, however, and that's important.
When that size - 5-foot-10, 170 to 180 pounds - becomes a conversation piece, as it was for Jerry Sr., and as it has been for 21-year-old Jerry Jr., the bond between the men is unmistakable.
A few days before the major-league amateur draft, which began Tuesday and runs through today, a visitor to the Hairston's Naperville home tells them of Baseball America's analysis of young Jerry, who just finished his sophomore season at Southern Illinois University.
In tabbing Hairston as the best college prospect in Illinois, it read in part:
Hairston has no major weaknesses, but isn't fast enough to be a middle infielder or big enough to play on a corner. If he were faster, he'd be a high pick.
All the pair hears is big enough. Both men scoff. Both predict the perceived slight will only strengthen Jerry Jr.'s resolve. Both tell stories of everyone's underestimation of their skills based on their dimensions.
"That makes me mad," says the elder Hairston, who hit .258 in his 14-year career, and led the American League in pinch hits in 1983, '84 and '85.
"They told me I'd never make it beyond (Class AA) ball. I liked it when they were talking about me. Now, it's my son."
"I could care less what they think," the younger Jerry says. "I've been told that all my life."
Thus far, Jerry Jr. has answered the skeptics with dominance. He hit .510 in his junior season at Naperville North, but injuries hampered his senior-season numbers.
He was drafted in the 42nd round, considered the low selection an insult, and signed with SIU.
Playing out of position at third base, Hairston won the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year honor, then hit .280 in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer.
This spring, back at shortstop for most of the season, Jerry led the Salukis with a .370 batting average. Old enough now to be drafted again, he hopes to become the sixth member of the Hairston family to sign a professional baseball contract.
No, check that. Jerry Hairston Jr. wants to be the fourth Hairston to play in the major leagues.
"He's not content with getting the chance to play pro ball," Salukis coach Dan Callahan says. "He's more driven than that, he's more hungry than that. He's not going to rest until he plays in the big leagues."
Callahan says he's heard that Hairston could be picked as high as the third round - where his father was selected out of high school by the White Sox in 1970 - or as low as the 10th.
Jerry Jr. says he's heard as high as the second round and as low as the seventh. He holds a bat as he says "I've been ready since I was two."
* * *
If any kids were born to play pro baseball, it's Jerry Jr. and his brothers Justin - now playing at Triton Junior College - and Scott, a sophomore shortstop at Naperville North.
This family tree should be made into bats someday:
Grandpa Sam Hairston played all of his prime in the Negro Leagues before the White Sox made him the franchise's first African-American signee. He was 31 when he played his only season in the majors.
Sam's brother Jack also signed with the White Sox, but finished in the minors. We know about Sam's son Jerry. Jerry's older brother John was called up by the Cubs in 1969, while Sam Jr. played on one of the White Sox rookie-league teams in 1966.
John's sons have done well, too. John Louis played minor-league ball, while Jeff is in the New York Yankees' system and Jason, who has been playing at Washington State University, is expecting a call from a major-league team today or tomorrow as well.
There's no worry about Jerry Jr. not respecting the past, and what pioneers like Sam did for today's African-American ballplayer. The past is part of him.
Sam is 77 and never has needed much prodding to talk about his days and contemporaries - guys like Satchel Paige and Double-Duty Radcliffe.
"I'm really fortunate to hear it from him instead of reading it in a book," Jerry Jr. says.
The game's black history is not all Jerry Jr. has had help with. Growing up with a major-league dad has its perks, such as getting a Comiskey Park dugout feel for not only the game, but the major-league lifestyle.
"That's another advantage he has," Jerry Sr. says. "He knows what he's getting into."
Knowing Ozzie Guillen and Robin Ventura like most kids know their grade-school teachers can help a kid learn the fundamentals, but science has yet to prove that baseball savvy can't be passed on by blood.
"Instinctively, he'll do things that other infielders won't do," Callahan says. "He'll take better routes to the ball, he'll play hitters better. He knows the game better than anybody I've ever coached."
Despite the scouting reports knocking Jerry Jr.'s speed, Callahan says he's clocked him to first base in 4.2 seconds, about the major-league average.
He probably won't be a big-league shortstop, Callahan says, but could play at second or be a utility guy.
One thing's for sure, Hairston has already made believers of those who doubted him after high school.
Callahan remembers Hairston turning around on a 93-mph fastball on Salukis Scout Day in the fall of 1995. Scout Day is an early chance for draft-eligible juniors and seniors to display their wares to talent seekers, and Callahan remembers scouts' reactions to Hairston's bat speed.
"He was still somewhat bitter as a freshman," Callahan says. "He was gonna prove to some people they were wrong. It was interesting to hear how many scouts admitted that ability-wise they misread him."
There's a blade in each of Hairston's eyes when he promises he'll prove more people wrong. Jerry Sr. had them once, too, and thinks his stature goaded pitchers into thinking they could overpower him.
"I used that as an advantage," he said. "If I got the fastball, I didn't miss it. I didn't mind being a little guy."

COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

Marlins farm director puts on uni, teaches fundamentals

HighBeam Research

Title: Marlins' Boles likes to get close to the action with Cougars.(Sports)

Date: July 22, 1997 Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Florida Marlins vice president of player development John Boles was in Geneva for the Cougars' four-game set with Cedar Rapids last weekend.
It was business as usual for the 48-year-old South Side of Chicago native who oversees the Marlins' minor-league system, one of the best in the game.
Boles met with Cougars manager Lynn Jones and his coaches and players before the games, watched the games like a scout, then visited with the team afterward.
Every minor-league coordinator follows the same routine, but very few can give what Boles does during batting practice and infield two hours before gametime.
Boles, who until this season did double duty as the Marlins' minor-league field coordinator (a roving coach), dons a practice uniform and hits fungoes and grounders and works individually with players.
If Boles is a suit, that suit has a cap, stirrups and cleats.
"He's one of us," Jones said.
Boles can think of just a few other men in his position who participate with his charges. Maybe more should - the Marlins' farm system was ranked third by Baseball America.
"I really like it that way," Boles said. "When you're out there working with somebody with their bunting or their outfield play, they look at you as a uniformed guy and not an office guy.
"If you have the ability to instruct and get in the uniform, I think it's beneficial."
The Lewis University grad can boast of one more thing his peers can't - major-league managing experience. After the Marlins fired Rene Lachemann on July 7, 1996, Boles guided the squad to a 40-35 record. Boles had last managed, at the Triple-A level, in 1986.
He doesn't think it lends him much credibility with his minor leaguers - he and Jones agree today's ballplayer doesn't love the game and its tradition - but he thinks it improved his player-evaluation skills.
"When you're up there on a regular basis, you can really see who can (play) and who can't, and it gives you a good indicator as to what certain guys in your system have to do to measure up with that level of play," Boles said.
It has been quite a year for Boles and the Marlins, who hired Jim Leyland as manager, spent $89 million on free-agents and recently were put up for sale.
Boles has been busy preparing for the November expansion draft, from which each major-league team can protect 15 players with at least three years' minor- or major-league service or who are on the major-league roster.
After a player is taken in each of the draft's three rounds, a team can protect three more of its players.
Boles' protective priority is his prospects, and that job is made easier because many of them - like 1996 Cougars Jaime Jones and Nate Rolison - have played less than three years and so are exempt from the clutches of Tampa Bay and Arizona.
Nevertheless, many other prospects - like ex-Cougars Todd Dunwoody and Ralph Milliard - are not exempt, and tough decisions have to be made.
"We're not going to trick Tampa Bay or Arizona," Boles said. "Ourselves and a couple other organizations are really being zeroed in on because we've got some pretty good players.
"We know we're going to lose three quality people, we just hope that they're not the people we really want to keep. It's a crapshoot, really.
"I've come up with seven different lists, and it's amazing how your lists change from spring training to this current date. I just did one the other day, and it changed dramatically from the beginning of the year."
When all facets of Boles' duties are considered, it's no wonder a trip to Kane County is something less than a homecoming.
"There's just no time to do anything special," he said. "Friends will say, 'Oh, I heard you were in town and you didn't call me.' There's just no time.
"There's a misconception - people think you get (to the park) five minutes before the game, and you go get 'em. We're here early, and after the game you're talking to staff members late. It's very busy.
"The only time I'd have to socialize would be coming back to Chicago during the off-season because during the season it's just impossible."
Boles graduated from Lewis in 1970 and served as the school's baseball coach from 1973-79. He began his pro baseball career in 1981 as a manager in the White Sox system and earned Class A manager of the year honors in 1983.
He was hired by the Kansas City organization and managed at Triple-A Omaha until being promoted to the Royals director of player development post in 1986.
In 1989, Boles joined Montreal as minor-league coordinator before being
boosted to director of player development in 1990.
He joined the expansion Marlins in 1991, coming over with current Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski among other Expos front-office staff.
The coaching and managerial background is what enables Boles to literally mold the Marlins of the future.
"He gets to know each and every one of us on a personal basis, and it makes it that much better," said Cougars first baseman Jason Garrett. "He has total power over everybody's career in this room. It's kind of intimidating at times, but he does his best to not be as intimidating as you sometimes believe it could be.
"You would be a whole lot more tentative if you looked up and your head of the minor leagues was just in the stands writing the whole time and you never got to talk to him, never got to interact.
"Bolesy's always in the clubhouse and he's always out on the field with us. He's a real hands-on kind of guy. I think it's awesome."

COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

The art of a brainy HS leadoff man

HighBeam Research

Title: Warriors' Broihier is at the head of his class.(Sports)

Date: June 2, 1996 Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer

A little bit after 2 p.m. today, Sean Broihier will stand before a graduation commencement crowd of nearly 600 of his fellow Waubonsie Valley students, an unknown number of their friends and relatives, as well as some school faculty and administrators, and he will give a three-to-four-minute speech.
"I'm a little nervous," says Broihier, not only one of three Waubonsie Valley valedictorians, but also a center fielder nearing the end of a textbook season for a leadoff man.
"He's not a talker," laughs Warriors coach Jim Schmid. "He'll be reading that thing."
Broihier is not a typical valedictorian - for him, the "Three Rs" could mean reading, writing and rebuilding remote control airplanes, or reading, writing and robbery.
That's right, robbery. Broihier has stolen 52 bases this season, and since he has been the catalyst for the Warriors' arresting run through the Class AA playoffs, it's 52 and counting.
Broihier has been nothing short of a menace as Waubonsie Valley became the second straight sixth-seed to win the Naperville North regional.
In semifinal and championship wins over two of the DuPage Valley Conference's best - Wheaton Warrenville South and Naperville North, respectively - Broihier reached base in eight of nine plate appearances (6 hits, 2 walks) and scored four times.
If he indeed is reading his speech, it's only an extension of his work on the diamond. Broihier played part time as a junior, hit in the ninth spot, and stole just a handful of bases.
The soon-to-be University of Illinois engineering student who, as a junior-high student built, flew and fixed a model airplane every time it crashed, had to learn to read again.
Broihier's improved ability to judge both pitchers' pickoff moves and their curve balls has led him to the finest one-season performance by a DuPage County leadoff man in recent memory.
He's always had great speed - "Probably the fastest kid I've coached," said Schmid - but needed to refine his technique, especially in reaching base and stealing third.
Broihier came to Schmid and assistant Denny Short as an aggressive first-pitch type hitter. Now he thinks nothing of taking 2 strikes to increase his chances of walking.
"I didn't like getting to 2 strikes because I couldn't hang with the curve ball, and they almost always threw a curve," Broihier said.
"He's done a better job of not giving away that he's having trouble with that pitch," Schmid said. "It doesn't really matter to him like it used to."
If Broihier gets a pitch he likes, he's more than capable with the bat. Using his speed to the utmost, he's hitting .362 going into Monday's Joliet Catholic sectional semifinal versus York.
Schmid estimates three of every four bunts Broihier gets down is a hit, while seemingly routine grounders are anything but for opposing defenses.
"If we get any of the infielders moving left or right, he has a chance to beat it out," Schmid said.
Indeed, four of Broihier's 6 hits against WW South and Naperville North never left the infield. Two were bunts, a result of Schmid's and Short's insistence that Broihier bunt at least once in every game last summer.
"Really what I want to do is hit a line drive, but if anything I wanna get the ball down on the ground," said Broihier, who has just 3 doubles this season. "Line drives or below. I don't think I've hit anything over anyone's head this year."
Once on base, Broihier, who shattered the school record of 35 steals, has been picked off twice and caught stealing four times. (By the way, he thinks West Chicago catcher Ryan Saul has the best arm he saw this season).
Ever the pupil, Broihier absorbs pitchers' subtleties, and as a result has improved his leads off base, his first two steps and his aggression in swiping third. Tellingly, he twice had multiple-steal games against lefthanders.
"He's got ya' after (watching a pitcher) one time," Schmid said. "He's a true student."

COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

Why HS teams take infield

HighBeam Research

Title: Taking notes while taking infield Coaches can learn a lot by watching opponents warm up before games.(Sports Extra)

Date: 4/15/2005; Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Correspondent

Terry Sullivan guided Lyons Township to two Elite Eights, including a third-place finish in 1996. Now he's a professional scout for the Boston Red Sox.
Both positions qualify him as an expert on an aspect of baseball that is often overlooked and, by fans, seldom-seen: taking infield.
The term is a misnomer, as outfielders are involved as well. Basically, a team's coaches divide the pregame tasks of hitting to infielders and outfielders for...well, for what? You might guess it is to warm the bodies and arms, and you'd be right. Partially.
Among the tradition's other uses:
"It imposes a little healthy pressure on kids," says Sullivan. "It's not only a bodily warm-up, it's an emotional warm-up."
"We just want to get used to (the field)," says St. Charles East coach Mark Foulkes. "What type of hops are out there? Is it a fast infield? Is it a slow infield?"
Says Batavia coach Matt Holm, "You're trying to show that you're a ball team."
Those comments encompass only what it does for a team when its side takes infield. A serious club hasn't begun when it steps on the field and isn't done when it's had its turn. It can pick up a lot by watching its opponent warm up.
Every coach can cite a game in which a tip picked up from watching pregame activity influenced a game-action decision. Sometimes the scouting makes a difference.
Like many coaches, Holm picks up a stopwatch when he puts down the fungo bat. He says that in a game in the first week of this season, the Bulldogs stole bases early and often on a catcher whose pregame throws to second base were slow.
Sometimes the scouting merely gives a coach enough information with which to gamble.
"We saw before the game all their outfielders gun the ball in here pretty good," Marmion's Jim Reiland said after a loss to Naperville North April 4. "We watched that before the game, so I knew, if that guy's accurate, we've got a close play, because I knew he was gonna get it there. I saw him before the game doing that."
Reiland took the chance that Naperville North center fielder Kyle Clarke wouldn't be strong-armed and on-target, and Clarke threw a strike to nab a Cadet at home in the fifth inning of a close game.
Holm has a similar story: "I thought the right fielder from Jacobs didn't have a particularly strong arm, and we got thrown out at the plate."
Different coaches look for different things.
"How are the outfield arms, is the first thing," Foulkes says. "Who can we run on? On cutoffs, do (the infielders) turn their bodies, or are they straight up?"
Coaches and players aren't the only ones watching. When recruiters and scouts schedule a date to see a position player, they don't want to take the chance that a ball may be hit to their target kid. Observations on speed, fielding, agility, grace, footwork, accuracy and arm strength are all guaranteed in pregame warm-ups.
Occasionally, because of logistical problems, one or neither team takes infield.
"We're very discouraged when there isn't an infield/outfield," Sullivan says. "We feel as though it's an incomplete day. It's almost as important to see infield as an extra at-bat or extra innings. The more veteran coaches are aware of these things."
What Sullivan means is, a scout's favorite coaches will follow these rules: don't hit balls right at the outfielders, so the scouts can gauge judgement, instincts, and footwork; don't have the catcher throw to second from in front of the plate; do have the catcher wear all his gear; do hit slow rollers to the infielders, which is, says Sullivan, a "test of athleticism and body control."
"Some (coaches) know we're there to see infield," says Sullivan, "and some think we're there because we wanted to beat traffic."
There are many different ways to take infield - which throws in what order, which base to throw to, cutoffs or not, double-play turns or not, and so on - but if it's done crisply and skillfully, or not, it can send a message.
"It can be a great way to set a tone before a game," says Foulkes. "To get you to start thinking. A really good (pre-game) can bring your confidence up. If it looks like you know what you're doing, it tells the opposing team you're here to play."
One last item lost in all the strategy and gamesmanship: it's conceivable that taking infield can make a kid a better ballplayer.
In a recent column on, Buster Olney wrote that it was no coincidence that many Major League Baseball executives and scouts agree that former Japanese major leaguers Ichiro Suzuki, of Seattle, and Hideki Matsui, of the Yankees, own, respectively, the consensus strongest outfield arm and quickest release. Both skills could be attributed to a quaint old idea still practiced in the Japanese major leagues but nearly forgotten in the top U.S. ranks.
Gary Denbo, a former Yankees hitting coach now coaching in Japan e-mailed Olney, "The Japanese coaches and players focus more on the footwork prior to the catch and throwing mechanics more than most American clubs. The Japanese teams also take infield every day prior to the game. It's a matter of attention to detail, as far as I'm concerned."

COPYRIGHT 2005 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

Detailed look at fundamentals in two plays in a minor-league baseball game

Hooper, Anderson do the little things

Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: June 2, 2000
Page: 16
Section: Sports

A brief pause to break down a couple of outstanding plays from Thursday's action at Elfstrom Stadium. In the first inning of Game 1 versus White Sox affiliate Burlington, Cougars catcher Dennis Anderson gunned down center fielder and leadoff hitter Chad Durham at third base for the second out. The next batter singled, and the next grounded out to end the inning.

It was just the fifth time in 35 attempts that Durham had been caught stealing, and the play saved a run. Durham had singled, extending what would be a 12-game hit streak by the end of the night, and Anderson didn't get a throw off when Durham stole second base.

"He had just stolen second base, and I didn't get a good grip on the ball," Anderson said. "I just had a feeling that he was going to be going, so I was kind of anticipating before he actually went. I called a curveball, because I wasn't positive he was going to be stealing. I just kind of let everything else take over. I practice it all the time."

Anderson said the throw to third starts out the same as the throw to second, but the distance changes the finish.

"You still want to keep your feet nice and close together, you want to keep it real compact, but the throw's so close, it's really got to be an automatic throw," Anderson said. "Bad throws can happen, but they should rarely happen at third base, I think."

A catcher has to be on his game against Burlington. After Durham in the lineup is Midwest League steals leader Danny Sandoval, who has 33.

"They're just dying to steal," Anderson said. "I try to adjust my pitches in steal situations. I try to give myself a good pitch to throw on. It's all about anticipation."

Though a curveball is not the best pitch with which to nail a runner, Anderson said Cougars starter Marc Sauer was the right guy to throw it.

"It wasn't the best, but Marc's really quick to the plate, he gets the ball to me real quick, even off-speed pitches," Anderson said. "He gets it to me in about 1.2 seconds, which is really fast."

Later in the game, with Kane County up 3-0, Cougars second baseman Kevin Hooper had a fantastic at-bat against lefty Josh Stewart with the bases loaded and 1 out. Hooper worked the count to 3-2, then fouled off several pitches before poking a ball just over the first baseman's head into right field. The hit scored 2 runs.

"I got the full count, and he just kept (throwing) fastball, changeup, fastball, changeup, that was all I was seeing," Hooper said. "I just told myself, 'Stay back, stay back,' because when he throws a change, I don't want to be out front. So I just stayed back, kept fouling pitches off, off, off, finally got a little chip to fall. It all paid off."

As leadoff man in the absence of the injured Chip Ambres, Hooper must work pitchers, and he had a similar at-bat in the second game. He fouled off several offerings before drawing a walk.

"Today was a good day for me. I fouled a lot of pitches off, and that's when I know I'm going pretty good," said Hooper, who led off in each of his four years at Wichita State. "Just keep fouling pitches off, that means I'm seeing it well. That's a much better at-bat. That's how it used to be all the time for me. I told myself yesterday I've got to get back in that mode and just be a tough out at the plate all the time."

Hooper said the key is how you handle your approach with 2 strikes.

"With 2 strikes I'm pretty comfortable, to be honest with you," he said. "I choke up a little bit more than I usually do, and - I'm already on the dish all the time - but I scoot up in the box to cut that curveball off. I just tell myself, 'Two strikes, you've got to battle right here. Be a tough out.' They're going to make a mistake. If you keep fouling pitches off, they're going to make a mistake."

Hooper had an extra advantage in the first at-bat. With the bases loaded, he could eliminate certain pitches from Stewart's arsenal. Not many Class A hurlers are confident enough to throw a 3-2 curve with the bases juiced.

"That's tough to do," Hooper said. "He's going to stay with the fastball or change, because if he throws a slider here and he loses it, he walks in a run."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Jeep-loving highly quotable minor-league pitcher

HighBeam Research

Title: Cougars' top gun having big fun Moser enjoys life on and off the baseball field.(Sports)

Date: 8/8/2000; Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); Author: Bush, Joe
If the media - electronic or print - were to piece together the perfect athlete, they would be less concerned with muscle, height or frame and very particular about mouth and brain.
The press would come up with something resembling Cougars lefty Todd Moser.
He's a talker, and what's more, he's funny and honest and sometimes a touch vulgar. Moser always has the time to gab, even after a bad outing. There hasn't been many of those this season, but Moser (8-4, 2.70 ERA) has chewed them over with anyone who wants to analyze them.
If Cougars fans can remember right-hander A.J. Burnett, a 1998 alum who has been with Florida the past season and a half, they will get a picture of Moser. The 23-year-old from Davie, Fla., doesn't have nipple rings, but he does prepare for games with crunchy rock music (Limp Bizkit, Korn) and has a happy-go-lucky attitude off the field which is the polar opposite of his mound aura.
"I know my job on the field is what I've got to do out there - I've got no problem doing that - but if you take this game too seriously, it's going to eat you up," Moser says. "I mean, we're in low-A ball. I've got to worry about pressure and stuff like that when I start making those big paychecks. I guess I've still got that whole college mentality.
"My coaches in college were always real loose. It was all fun and joking around. You get your stuff done, you do it right, there's no reason to be hard about anything. You can have fun, too. They can go hand in hand."
The fashionable bleached-top crew cut, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound bone collection, the loose clothing, the always-ready smile - Moser could be an X-Gamer. In fact, his extreme sport is taking his 1994 Jeep Wrangler, which he bought from major-league catcher and good friend Bobby Estalella, and its chubby Super Swamper tires into as much muck as possible.
He hasn't done it much this season because cleanup is such a hassle and the team's down time is precious, but at home? The tires aren't just for show.
"Are you kidding me? I live like 10 minutes from the Everglades," Moser says. "It's a lot of fun, trying to get as much mud, so I can't even see out the windows."
Moser makes sure to get a much-clearer view of the science and art of pitching, and it's that combination of between-starts goofiness and studiousness that endears him to Cougars pitching coach Jeff Andrews and Marlins roving pitching instructor and former White Sox phenom Britt Burns
"It's hard to single out something that you like about this guy because there's so many parts that make him up," Andrews says. "I love his personality. I like his energy, I like his desire to pitch. He's always asking questions or always asking what he needs to do. He's never settled on it. He's got a nice relationship of what works for him and trusting myself and Burnsie to give him what he doesn't know yet.
"In this world that takes you a long way - when you don't think you know everything or you don't think that you don't need to change. That really stymies a lot of people, and he's not in that category."
Moser has been humbled a bit by injuries. He had shoulder surgery after his freshman year in junior college, knee surgery his junior year at Florida Atlantic University, and had to start this season late because of a damaged ligament in his right thumb. Through it all, he's won and won big.
After transfering to FAU - which he chose over national powerhouses so his family could watch him play - Moser won 9 games in his junior season and tied for the Division I lead in wins with a 15-1 mark in his senior season.
Because he was a senior with no bargaining leverage, he had to settle for being a 14th-round pick. It would have been a different story had he won the 15 games the previous season.
"Oh, God, add a couple zeros to my signing bonus," Moser says.
At least he got enough money to buy the Jeep. After signing, Moser earned all-star honors from the New York-Penn League and Baseball America (for short-season players) with an 8-2, 1.53-ERA 1999. Between college and pro ball last season, Moser was 23-3 and tossed 192 innings.
It only gets tougher from here on. Moser does not have overpowering velocity (91 mph, tops) or a knee-buckling breaking ball. What he does is command those pitches, as well as throw an improving changeup and an occasional slider.
His ERA was fourth-best in the Midwest League, but on the list of top-10 ERAs, Moser had walked the fewest (19 in 113 innings) by far.
"At this level, if you command one pitch, you're going to have a chance, if you command two pitches, you're going to win, and if you command three, you're really going to do well," Andrews says. "Even through his success, he's come to the realization that (the changeup) is going to have to be there. How is he going to face Jose Canseco or (Mark) McGwire without a changeup?
"That's the kind of thought you want to put in their minds, but you don't want to go out and throw 80 changeups. (Moser) has that ability to take the information, put it in the right perspective, and then use it as he goes."
Moser's got a few more starts this season. He's most looking forward to an upcoming series with West Michigan, the MWL's best team. Most of Moser's family will be at Elfstrom Stadium that week, including his dad, Andy, and Al, the 96-year-old grandfather who used to cry after his every start at FAU.
"So happy," Moser says.
In case it's not obvious when you see him between starts, Moser is overjoyed, too, as pleased as a Jeep driver in a mudhole during a Florida thundershower.
"I'm loving it," he says. "I really don't want to go home. I want to keep playing."
COPYRIGHT 2000 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

Minor league baseball players reminisce about their football careers

HighBeam Research

Title: Football season brings memories to Cougars.(Sports)

Date: 8/25/2000; Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); Author: Bush, Joe
High school football begins today in Illinois, and for some in the Kane County locker room, the feeling unique to football has never stopped.
Cougars center fielder Chip Ambres was a double-threat quarterback for the Westbrook High Bruins in gridiron-mad Texas and turned down scholarship offers from Texas A&M and Nebraska in order to take more than $1 million of the Marlins' money in 1998.
The two times the Marching Cobras marching band from Kansas City has played at Elfstrom Stadium, Ambres drifted back to Friday nights in the Lone Star State.
"I get chills," Ambres says.
Six-foot-8 Cougars reliever Bryan Moore still gets giddy when he thinks of being on a college football field in front of 15,000 fans. One of the finest, most unbelievable moments of his life happened last year when the University of Houston played Eastern Carolina.
If you're struggling to picture the lanky Moore playing Division I football, or know that last fall Moore was no longer a student at UH because he had signed with the Marlins in the summer of 1999, then you're on the right track.
Moore didn't play organized football past grades school, but that day, in a halftime promotion, he kicked field goals of 35 and 45 yards to win $10,000. Moore - whose selection from the crowd was hardly random because he knew the lady who chose the three people - didn't just eek out the kicks, either. They both sailed through at or near the top of the uprights.
"I still, like, talk about it now and get the adrenaline rush," says Moore, who has the event on videotape and has shown it to Cougars teammates. "It's probably the most pressure thing I've ever done. It surpasses any of this baseball stuff."
Before you think that it's just like the world to award $10,000 to a pro athlete, get this: Moore was a fifth-year senior when the Marlins drafted him in the 13th round, meaning he had no negotiating leverage for his signing bonus. It was either sign or get a job.
"(The prize) was almost two 1/2 times my signing bonus," Moore says. "Ten thousand dollars was nice."
After taxes, it was actually $8,500, but had Moore made the 35- yarder and missed the longer one, he'd have won a T-shirt.
Right fielder Matt Padgett kicked field goals with pads on and a helmet and a Clemson uniform - a real team member. He once beat North Carolina State with a last-second field goal. In high school, Padgett played safety and fullback as well.
"High school football was probably one of my most favorite things I've done," Padgett says. "Even like, college football and college baseball. High school football was a good time."
Alumni news: Former Cougars right fielder Brett Roneberg (1998, '99), now at Class A Brevard County, earned a berth on the Australian Olympic team.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at

HS baseball players read to elementary kids

Addison Trail provides well-read role models
Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: April 21, 1995
Page: 1
Section: Sports Extra (High School)

Kids are always asking questions - who, where, when, why, why, why?

The inquisitive instinct is alive and well in Jill Grauer's first-grade class at Wesley School in Addison, as most of her class wriggles on the Reading Carpet, gathered in front of Curt Studinski, a senior baseball player at Addison Trail High School.

Studinski holds a copy of today's reading, "Monster Momma," and after he reads each page, there are the inevitable questions. His.

"How did the three boys treat Patrick?" Studinski wants to know.

Bad, Mean, Not very polite, reply three of Studinski's first-grade buddies.

"How do you think Patrick felt about what the kid said about his mother?"

"What do you think Patrick will do?"

"What's happening to Patrick?"

"Who baked the cake?"

"How would you feel if you had a mom like that?"

A five-minute children's story turns into a 25-minute forum on the way Patrick handled having a monster for a mother. Sometimes half the kids raise their hands to answer Studinski. Occasionally they all laugh at what the other said. Especially Studinski.

"He's got a great smile," Grauer says. "He smiles a lot."

That's just part of Studinski's reward for the weekly volunteer work he and four of his teammates do at Wesley and nearby Stone schools. Their efforts are the continuation of a program football and baseball coach Paul Parpet began in 1988 with monthly football-player visits to Alden Valley Ridge nursing home in Bloomingdale.

The rest of Studinski's payoff is in a feeling 17- and 18-year old kids cannot easily explain, a sense that some good must come from children "tugging at their pants leg to read one more page," as District 4 superintendent Larry Weck puts it.

It is Parpet's hope to eventually include all of District 4's six elementary schools, its pre-school and its junior high in the exchange.

Weck is all for it; the only obstacle is whether more high school kids can properly juggle their schedules. Studinski and teammates Brian Wrzesinski, Tony Stromdhal, Dan Flemming, Scott Voelkner and football player John Kondracki are showing that it can be done, and it's well worth the effort.

"I wish people would've done that when I was younger," says Studinski, who also helps the kids with their computer work. "Number one, it gets you out of class. Number two, you get to talk more. I was kind of a shy kid."

"They get big smiles and say 'Hi' to me and all that," Stromdhal says of his weekly entrances. "It's really cool. It gets better every time you go because you get to know the kids more, you start talking to them a little more. I was a little nervous the first day because I haven't worked with kids before, really."

Parpet has worked with kids for half of his life, coached the Blazers varsity football teams for 11 years and took on the varsity baseball job in 1994. He knows athletes are stereotyped, and he knows some deserve to be - some.

"We hear so much about negativism, and that's not always the case," Parpet says. "We get so hung up on wins and losses. There's a heck of a lot more than just that."

Parpet was inspired to begin the nursing home visits after watching a Christmas commercial from the professional athlete-related United Way charity. The visits include bingo, wheelchair competitions and cookouts. Around Christmas, members of the school's other clubs and teams join the football players for a caroling session. Parpet's brother and assistant football coach John is Santa Claus.

The group has never been fewer than 25 kids, and not a month has been missed. Its early members include distinguished former Blazers and current Ivy Leaguers John Lykouretzos and the Kelly brothers, John and Pat; University of Illinois Rhodes Scholar candidate Steve Steinhaus and standout running back/defensive back James Dorsey.

Parpet got the elementary school inspiration from a speaker at a national high school baseball coaches convention in Dallas this past year. His conviction was sealed when he noticed that evryone who signed up for a guest-reader program at his daughter's first-grade open house was a woman.

And when Grauer is asked the secret to Studinski's success with her class, she simply replies, "I have 18 boys."

That is the most obvious benefit of the players' time well-spent. The term role-model has been used more as an example of who is not one.

Studinski began his visits in baseball's pre-season. On the day of the Blazers' first game, the class surprised him with drawings of Studinski in his baseball uniform, bound with a computer-drawn cover.

The class brings in newspaper pictures of Blazers games, including a shot taped to the rear blackboard of Studinski getting a faceful of cleats in a game against Driscoll.

"It makes us look better," says Studinski of the program. "It's not like we're self-centered or anything. We're trying to help the community."

"High school to (the first-graders) is a very foreign thing," Grauer says. "The only thing they know about Addison Trail is that it's Curt's school."

"There's always value in looking at high school kids coming to an elementary school and (the children) seeing what (the high school kids) can do," Weck says.

As much as the program benefits the community, it can also mean a lot to an individual.

When Wrzesinski offered his services at Wesley, a second-grade teacher introduced him to a boy who had been a handful. All his siblings are girls, attention at home is spread thin and the boy sometimes expends his energy at the wrong places and wrong times.

The first of their weekly two-hour meetings was in March, and it consisted of a little basketball and a lot of talk. It has since grown to a relationship which has improved the boy's behavior and made Wrzesinski count his blessings.

"I had all that stuff as a kid, and I didn't even realize it," Wrzesinski says. "It's opened my eyes a bit."

The two play catch and work on the boy's school projects and talk, mostly about considering the consequences of the boy's actions.

"I've been trying to get it through to him to go along with the program," Wrzesinski says. "It seems like it's worked. He's been staying out of trouble. I really look forward to going and hearing that he stayed out of trouble."

It didn't take long for Wrzesinski to realize his responsibility.

"I'll say some things to him and he'll bring them up weeks later," Wrzesinski says. "He really looks up to me."

Wrzesinski has offered his phone number to, and wants to meet, the parents. Maybe he can take the boy to Enchanted Castle, or out to play, or something. Wrzesinski is leaving for Northern Illinois University to study business next fall, and he knows someone has to pick up where he leaves off.

The boy asked him the other day, "When school's over with, are we still gonna be friends?"
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


Nelson Cruz in Class A

Low Class A Notebook
Edited by J.J. Cooper
June 23, 2003
Cruz emerges from obscurity to do damage for Kane County
GENEVA, Ill.—For the first time in Kane County’s 13-year history, there is air conditioning in the clubhouses at Elfstrom Stadium.
If the Midwest’s notoriously frigid spring climate didn’t hinder Kane County’s Nelson Cruz, an artificial chill shouldn’t either. It remains to be seen if Cruz, in his first full season, will feel the bite of the upcoming dog days.
If the 22-year-old Dominican right fielder repeats his first-half numbers, he will win two-thirds of the Midwest League’s triple crown, just as Kane County’s Jason Stokes did in 2002.
Cruz’s 14 home runs put him four ahead of Stokes’ 27-homer pace from last season. But that’s where the similarities between the two players end. Stokes was a $2 million first-round pick; Cruz a low-priced signee out of the Dominican Republic. Stokes is considered one of the game’s top prospects; Cruz is relatively unknown. Stokes also led the league in batting (.341), while Cruz led the league in RBIs (47) but is not a threat to win a batting title, as his .266 average attests. Stokes also was a Marlins prospect, and Cruz is with the Athletics, reflecting the Cougars’ new major league affiliation.
Despite coming seemingly from nowhere, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Cruz is having a classic breakthrough season.
“I don’t know exactly how the organization looked at him before, but in my eyes, he’s definitely a prospect,” Cougars manager Webster Garrison said. “He plays the game hard, and his tools speak for themselves. He’s putting it together, that’s the main thing. He’s opened some eyes.”
Steadily Improving
Cougars hitting coach Eddie Williams is a Cruz backer as well. Midwest League pitchers have adjusted to Cruz, and so far he had kept up with the respect.
“They’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him,” Williams said. “They’re starting him off with breaking balls, they’re starting him off with fastballs up and in, they’ll go 3-2 sliders, 3-1 sliders, 3-1 changeups. He’s seeing everything, and he’s handling it pretty well.”
Cruz is manhandling the game, really, as he’s developed a power stroke that he didn’t show during his first two seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.
Cruz signed with the Mets in February 1998 and slugged below .400 in his first two years, but he bulked up and hit .351-15-80 for the Mets’ club in the DSL in 2000. After the season, he was traded to the Athletics for shortstop Jorge Velandia. He hit .250-3-16 in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2001, then followed that up with a .276-4-25 season at short-season Vancouver last year.
This season has been a giant step forward for Cruz. Garrison remembers a younger Cruz as a smaller Cruz.
“He could run, he had a good arm, good outfielder, he could hit and make contact, but he wasn’t as strong and physical as he is now,” Garrison said. “This kid worked in the past couple offseasons, and I mean he’s a man in that batter’s box swinging the bat. When he gets a hold of them, he drives them out of the park; he doesn’t pop ’em up.”
“When I hit balls, I know when they’re going,” Cruz said.
Chicks Dig The Long Ball
Cruz loves his power, choosing easily between an outfield assist and a dinger. He lights up talking about the feeling of hitting home runs and the local fame he’s enjoying.
Neither Garrison nor Williams thinks Cruz is obsessed with the long ball, and Cruz says all the right things. He’s working on smoothing the upper cut in his swing, improving his strike zone judgment (20 walks, 68 strikeouts) and hitting the other way.
“Everything outside, outside, curveballs, nothing is straight,” he said. “I’m trying to hit to the other side, too. I’m better now. My swing’s different.”
Both Garrison and Williams say Cruz’ work ethic, combined with plain old experience, will push him closer to .300.
“He’s a man among boys,” Williams said. “It’s just a matter of him getting 500 at-bats and learning that offspeed pitch. He can hit the fastball, he can hit the offspeed pitch, but every once in awhile he’ll get unselective and he’ll swing at some balls in the dirt, which is common for a 22-year-old kid.”
Garrison said Cruz hasn’t been spending all of his time in the gym.
“He’s been lifting a lot of weights and finding his swing, more than anything,” Garrison said. “You can lift all the weights you want, but if you don’t have the correct swing, it doesn’t matter. He’s more going through the ball now, instead of just trying to lift it out of the ballpark. I don’t know if he’s going to hit for a big average, like .340, but I see him getting better, hanging around .280-.300, along with some power, doing some damage.
“That’s what he is, he’s going to be a damage guy.”

HS coach leaves coaching to spend time with cancer-stricken wife

Cappelleri chooses one passion over another

Author(s):    Joe Bush
Date: May 24, 1996
Page: 3
Section: Sports Extra (High School)

This is a love story.

Phil Cappelleri met Sonja Olsen when two of his baseball team captains at DeLaSalle conned him into taking along their English teacher to the pre-season Chinese dinner to which Cappelleri traditionally treated his captains.

While the boys were away from the table, Phil and Sonja agreed to trick the tricksters by pretending to have hit it off so well they would be discussing their future together when the boys returned.

The mischievous adults even exchanged class rings to wear to school the next day.

Pretty soon, they fooled no one. The current Willowbrook coach proposed to Sonja two months later, and she accepted. That was nine years ago.

"Everything we talked about (that first night) came true," Cappelleri said.

What they didn't talk about was Sonja's near-fatal bout with diabetes and its complications four years later - the days when she would vomit up to 12 times, the 50 pounds she would lose, the 75 pills she would swallow daily, the pancreas and kidney doctors would replace with transplants, the toe they would amputate or the eyes they would assault with over 7,000 laser burns during surgeries to repair damage from the complications.

They couldn't have seen the ordeal coming, but together they have seen it through.

After a two-year break, Sonja, 39, resumed teaching, at Kennedy Junior High in Naperville, this year - at one point she taught in a wheelchair three days after the toe amputation - and will return to graduate school.

She takes just 15 pills per day now, and though the pancreatic transplant has weakened her resistance to infection, and either of the two transplants could still be rejected, life has resumed as usual.

Sonja cites a study which concluded that 80 percent of multiple transplant patients never return to their previous careers.

"I was going into (the illness) to be normal again," Sonja said. "Life is really pretty good."

Sometime in the next three weeks, Willowbrook will either lose a playoff game or win the Class AA state title. In either ending - most likely the former - the game will be the last in Cappelleri's 29-year coaching career.

He's leaving one passion for another.

"It's just time for me to spend some time with my wife," the 46-year-old Cappelleri said. "She hasn't asked for it, but she deserves it."

Naturally, most of the credit for Sonja's survival goes to her and her doctors, most of them at the University of Minnesota.

The couple will never forget their junior-high faculty friends at Kennedy, Madison - where Phil is a P.E. teacher - and Jefferson (where Phil taught for a year), who brought Sonja food when Phil was coaching and wasn't home to cook, and who donated money to help cover expenses.

Sonja's parents, Hans and Alma, of Muskegon, Mich., were by Sonja's side wherever and whenever she needed them.

But Sonja and Phil had looked each other in the eye and said "in sickness and in health," and by all accounts, Phil has been a man of his word.

"There's no one like Phil," Alma said. "We think the world of Phil."

"No matter what, he's there," Sonja said. "He's always been the exact same person. I don't know if anybody's as sure of their relationship as we are."

Of course, this is more Sonja's story than Phil's. He's a husband doing what any husband should; but he once helped Gordie Gillespie coach Lewis University to three straight national titles, and has a 412-168 record as a high school baseball coach, and that's why this tale is told in the sports section.

In addition to his jobs as a teacher and coach, Phil worked at a grocery-chain deli and at Team Sports International baseball camps in Gurnee during winter weekends.

Still, the couple had to move into a smaller house, cutting their mortgage payments in half, freeing up even more for the medical bills.

Phil is humble about all this - "She is so much tougher than I am," he said - but Sonja has begun to see her struggle for what it is.

"I used to be modest about it," Sonja said. "But after going through it, I really do feel the patients are the heroes. I'm really pretty proud of myself."

"She is one gutsy little girl," said 70-year-old Alma. "She was very independent from the time she was born. That was her favorite saying, 'I'll do it myself.' "

Imagine then how hard it was to need all the help required to regain her health. As tough as that was, leaving her job in March of 1993 was tougher.

A kidney failure caused by the July 1993 pancreatic transplant delayed her return an extra year. The couple had moved to their smaller house, which is a stone's throw from Kennedy, and day after day she had to listen to the dismissal bells.

"The hardest thing in all this was the day I left teaching," she said.

Now, Phil is leaving coaching, and it's not difficult to understand that the decision is an easy one. The two don't have grandiose plans for the extra time - "I just want normal things," Sonja said - they just want to share it.

"It's just nice to come home at 3:30 and say hello to her, or to be here when she comes home," Phil said. "From February on, it's not that way."

A trip to Norway to visit her relatives is a goal of theirs; otherwise, they'll enjoy running errands and eating dinner together. Phil recently bought a fishing boat; Sonja would like to see him use it.

The couple has included each other in all but one issue. After a malnourished Sonja came off a feeding tube at the Loyola Medical Center, she met with a cousin of Phil's with whom she has grown close.

"We sat down and talked about my funeral, because I couldn't talk about it with Phil," she said.

Fortunatley, finding organ donors wasn't a drawn-out affair; in a bizarre twist, the pancreas originally belonged to an English teacher, while a kidney was found despite the need for a rare antigen match.

Instead of two years, Sonja waited six months for the kidney; still, she insists on spreading awareness of the ease with which people can donate organs.

She's nearing the end of her first full school year since 1992; her husband is nearing the end of his last high-school season.

"(Coaching) truly was his calling," Sonja said. "It so much defines who he is."

"Of course I'll miss it," Phil said. "I would be very remorseful if I spent five more years coaching and didn't spend any time with her. I love coaching, but I love my wife more.

"I'd like to spend some time with my hero. Few people do."
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