Tom Pasco has been a member of the Barton Braves for the past 21 or 22 summers, he really can't remember.
However, his long-tenured Ohio Valley Baseball League career will come to a close in the next couple of weeks, and he could think of nothing better than going out a winner.
Barton advanced to the Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League's championship series, which begins Tuesday. He's been a part of a couple championship Barton squads, but another title wouldn't hurt any.
"We've got a pretty good group of guys this year," Pasco said of the Braves' current roster, which is stocked with veteran leadership, some very good young players, and a lot of talent. "It would be nice to go out on top."
The former Wheeling Park High School, Post 1 and Mercer University standout is hanging up his spikes in the near future and moving to South Carolina where he will coach and teach at Carolina Forest High School in Myrtle Beach.
"I'll miss it. I'll definitely miss it," Pasco said of competing in the OVBL. "I know they don't have an adult baseball league in Myrtle Beach, but they do in Charleston (S.C.), so I'm going to keep my feelers out and see if I can get on a team."
Pasco said it's hard to narrow down all the memorable moments he has had in the OVBL.
"There's a lot of nostalgia and great memories from the OVBL. It's a great baseball league, and going to the wooden bats several years ago really bolstered the league with young, talented college players."
Current Barton manager Billy Timko credits Pasco and fellow veteran Joel Atkinson for much of the Braves' success this season.
"Those two guys are (high school) coaches. While I'm coaching third base, they are in the dugout coaching the guys right along with me. It makes my job that much easier."
While he has so many ties in the Ohio Valley, especially Ohio County, Pasco has no regrets about heading south.
"Getting back down south has always been a goal of mine since college," he admitted. "My in-laws moved there last year and my wife gave me the OK. Our son is only 4, so we thought it would be a nice time to try it.
"Baseball-wise it's a really nice setup. It's basically year-round and that suits me fine. It's top-notch competition and an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
Pasco will serve as the Panthers' varsity pitching coach. The program competes in Class AAAA, which is the largest scholastic division in South Carolina. He will also serve as an assistant football coach.
He is currently in his sixth season as skipper of the talented Post 1 American Legion squad. With this being his last season at the helm, he is excited about the opportunity at winning another Mountain State championship as Wheeling hosts the state tournament later this month.
"We've got as good a chance as anyone in the state," he said Monday night prior to Barton's Steele and Cook Insurance OVBL playoff semifinal with St. Clairsville. "South Charleston is the perennial power, but we've played them tough. We've lost to Fairmont twice, but no one has beat us by more than three runs."
By getting to know Tom from his OVBL days, I've figured out what type of fierce competitor he is, and I think that transfers over to his players.
If so, look for Barton to claim another OVBL crown, Post 1 to win another state title, and look for Carolina Forest to be getting a good, quality coach, who is also a quality human being.
Lance Niekro Named Mocs' at FSC
Former Florida Southern All-American and Major Leaguer Lance Niekro is the new head baseball coach at Florida Southern College.
FSC Director of Athletics Pete Meyer recently announced that he is relinquishing his baseball coaching duties and turning the program over to Niekro.
Meyer will continue in his role as athletics director.
"I'm very excited for this opportunity," Niekro said. "Being an alum and from Lakeland, it's a great position for me and my family. Everyone knows what a great baseball tradition Florida Southern has established. I definitely feel the program is going in the right direction and my staff and I look forward to keeping the program among the very best in Division II."
Niekro becomes just the sixth head baseball coach the Moccasins have had since 1958. He takes over a program that has produced nine NCAA Division II championships, the most by any Division II baseball program.
He joined the Moccasin staff as an assistant coach for the 2011 season and served as associate head coach this season. A graduate of Lakeland's George Jenkins High School, Niekro was drafted as a senior by Philadelphia in the 13th round, but chose to attend Florida Southern instead of signing. He was redshirted in 1998 and played in 1999 and 2000 for the Moccasins. In 1999 he hit .368 with eight home runs, 44 RBI and 21 stolen bases. In 2000 he hit a team-best .357 with seven home runs, a team-high 63 RBI and 24 stolen bases. He was a first-team All-Sunshine State Conference selection, a first-team All-South Region selection and a third-team All-America pick. In the 2000 Major League Draft, he was the 61st player selected overall, going in the second round to San Francisco.
He made his big league debut with the Giants in September of 2003. His best season was 2005, when he hit .252 with 12 home runs and 46 RBI in 113 games. Overall he spent four seasons with the Giants, hitting .246 with 17 home runs and 79 RBI. He also had brief minor league stints with the Astros' and Braves' organizations before leaving pro baseball. He returned to Lakeland and completed work on his bachelor's degree in May 2010.
Niekro is the son of the late Lansing native Joe Niekro, who won 221 games in 22 seasons in the Major Leagues and who also was an assistant coach at Florida Southern in 2000. His uncle is Hall of Famer pitcher Phil Niekro, who won 318 games in his career.
He and his wife, Emilee, have a 1-year-old son, Will.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org