Another Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League season is in the scorebook.
And what a summer it was!
In my several years of covering the wooden bat league, I think this might have been the most evenly balanced season. Heck, the championship finals proved that as No. 3 Lafferty and No. 5 Maynard battled, with lower-seeded Maynard prevailing in a three-game sweep.
To take my thinking a step further, No. 8 Shadyside, which qualified for the postseason on the final day of the regular season, gave the top-seeded Wheeling Cardinals all they could handle in the first round before being ousted.
Since the league went to the wooden bats several years ago, it has drawn a host of collegiate players to various team's rosters. That is only making the league stronger and gives it a bona fide presence around the Ohio Valley.
If you take a look at the rosters of the 11 teams, many of the names are former high school standouts who have went on to enjoy very good college careers, or are continuing to shine on the college diamonds.
That doesn't mean these players have had their "day in the sun" as one individual has said repeatedly. These players, some young and some not so young, are out there playing three or four games a week because they love the sport, not because they are being forced to.
If you've never been to a game, shame on you!
I know the league, for a long time was referred to as a "beer" league, but that is far from it now. In my days of covering games from Weirton to Lafferty to Maynard to Neffs and Barton, I've never seen a player and/or manager drink a beer during a game. Afterwards, sure. Why not?
That reputation has got to go, and soon!
CONGRATULATIONS go out to Maynard for winning the 2013 championship.
Manager Laney Simone Sr. said following Monday's game three clincher that "we recruited really well this past off-season, and it paid dividends."
The long-time OVBL mentor brought in the likes of Sam Vincenzo, Zach Kinnick and D.J. Busby, three former St. C. standouts, Logan Hudson from Shadyside, and welcomed the return of former player B.A. Holloway.
Add those to the list of returnees that included Mark Cisar, Max Schimmel, Ryan Jarvie, Michael Androsko, Laney Simone Jr., and Cory Kotopka and it formed a very good team that peaked at just the right time, winning its final six games.
For his accomplishments, Simone Sr. has been selected as Manager of the Year for 2013.
He also won a title 26 years ago when he managed Lafferty, and if you don't believe him, he's got a jacket to prove it!
Others considered included Jordan Barbina of Lafferty, Ricky Szeligo of the Wheeling Cardinals and Barton's Billy Timko.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: This was one of the hardest awards to select because there were so many choices.
But when it came down to it, it was a no-brainer when I really got to thinking about it. Nobody was better on the hill than Maynard righthander Mark Cisar, who was named the championship finals' MVP.
The crafty veteran gave Maynard a really good chance at winning every time Simone Sr. handed him the baseball.
Others considered were Maynard teammates Vincenzo and Logan Hudson; Weirton's Logan Linder; Barton's trio of Mackenzie Koehler, Tyler Kurtz and Mike Muklewicz; Wheeling Cardinals' Trevor Gilles; Neffs' Matt Masarick; and Lafferty's Mark Smyth, Travis Stephens and Cameron Smith.
MVP: Another no-brainer!
In my opinion, the Most Valuable Player is the player that means the most to his team, not the player that puts up all the sparkling numbers.
Well, this player did both, and did both superbly.
My choice for 2013 Steele and Cook Insurance OVBL MVP is none other than Cisar.
The former Magnolia High three-sport standout put Maynard on his back and carried them at one point late in the regular season and early in the playoffs. In one four-game stretch, he hit a whopping .800 (12-15) with six singles and a like number of doubles.
When the 38-year-old wasn't hurting teams with his bat, his right arm was doing the damage.
When asked if he remembered the last baseball championship he won, he quickly replied, "1999 in the South Atlantic League."
HIDDEN GEMS: The OVBL has some of the finest baseball diamonds in the valley that most people don't even know about: Henning Field in Crescent, Firemen's Field in Maynard, the old ballyard along Ohio 149 in Neffs and the Community Park field in Lafferty.
A funny story about Henning Field.
Paul Krajnyak, who helps us out with high school sports photography, was asked if he would like to shoot an OVBL game in Crescent. His first question was, 'how do I get there?'
Simple enough I told him. Take Sugar Street south from St. Clairsville until it turns in to Crescent Road. Follow that for a couple of miles until you wind around a big turn and come to a bridge. I told him he could make a right directly after the bridge or the next right. Both would take him to the field.
He chose the first. For those of you that haven't been to Henning Field, when you take that first right you drive through a small neighborhood thinking you're going nowhere. But, then, out of nowhere, a beautiful baseball appears as in the movie "Field of Dreams."
He found the field with no problem and was amazed at its beauty.
So was I the first time I made my way there!
RUMORS: I've heard through the grapevine that Neffs might not field a team next season. That would be a shame as the A's Gang participated in the 2012 Championship Series, losing in four games to Barton.
Dane Koch and the gang have done a tremendous job of revitalizing the program, but a lack of committed players due to various reasons had the A's Gang playing short-handed this season.
I've also heard that at least one more team might fold up its dugout, while another is trying to enter the competition.
The newcomer seems to be the Belmont County Cubs, according to twitter. However, league president Laney Simone Sr. has yet to hear from the proposed club.
See you next spring!
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org