Baseball players show off their skills

ELM GROVE – Ohio Valley baseball players had a chance to show their stuff Tuesday evening.

It just so happened the eyes of those watching weren’t the normal eyes that watch area baseball day in and day out.

More than 110 upper and underclassmen took part in the fifth annual OVAC Baseball Showcase held at the Chambers I-470 Complex in conjunction with all-star media night.

The numbers have stayed on par to the early years of the event, according to director and former professional pitcher Steve Wojcik.

“The first couple of years we were in the hundreds and then we had rain last year, so we were down, but we’re very, very pleased with the numbers we have this year,” Wojcik said. “We’re hoping this continues to grow and more kids come out here and get themselves evaluated.”

It was estimated that some 15 colleges were in attendance, including the likes of West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit, Waynesburg, Ohio Valley College, Bethany College and several others in the tri-state area. There was also a scout from the Milwaukee Brewers on hand.

“It’s difficult to increase the number of colleges in attendance because it’s so far away for a lot of schools,” Wojcik said. “The West Virginia Conference and PAC usually recruit this area, but once you get further west in Ohio, there are so many schools that those coaches usually don’t come east too much.”

Many area athletes have high aspirations of playing any sport at the major college level, but some times, the reality factor sets in that Division II or III is the route to go when you consider the education is the name of the game.

“I think if there’s a Division I kid, everyone knows about him, but this is usually a Division II or III area and maybe some (junior college) kids,” Wojcik said. “If you find a D-I kid in this area, most of the people would know about them.”

The showcase has proved worth it for several for area players. Wojcik’s prime example is former Wheeling Park pitcher Cory Walter, who is now a key member of the pitching staff for West Virginia University.

“The coach at the time, Gregg Van Zant, had saw him before, but saw him again, re-evaluated his progress and gave him a call a couple of days afterward and now he’s in the rotation at WVU,” Wojcik said.

The showcase is actually geared more toward underclassmen. However, a handful of senior players did take part.

“Coach Wojcik, his staff and the OVAC do a great job with this,” said West Liberty head coach Eric Burkle, who just completed his first season at the Hilltoppers’ helm. “It’s good to give these kids this chance and now some of these younger kids will come back next year and know what to expect, so it’ll be a little better.”

Any of the players, who’ve been chosen for the OVAC All-Star Game, which will be played at Vacarro Field in Steubenville on Monday, can take part for free and the others did so at a cost of $10 with the proceeds benefitting the OVAC Baseball Scholarship.

The value of the showcase, which had specific drills for infielders, outfielders, catchers and pitchers, can’t be understated when you consider the cost of these same types of events held in other places.

“There’s a showcase with the Beast of the East and it’s $75 and if you go to showcases in either the Columbus or Pittsburgh area it’s anywhere between $75 and $150,” Wojcik said. “This is money well spent for the kids and it goes to benefit a kid here.”

All of the data produced by the players, including 60-yard dash times, velocity for pitchers and other measurements were recorded and will be sent to several colleges in the area for their review.

Some of the schools that had players take part included: Bridgeport, Bellaire, Martins Ferry, Beallsville, East Richland Christian, Wheeling Park, Brooke, John Marshall, Meadowbrook, Bishop Donahue, Madonna and several others.

“It’s tough to get the schools on the out lying area to take part and I understand it’s a long drive, but we have to encourage those kids to get here because it’s only going to help kids gain (college) attention,” Wojcik said.

Burkle and his assistant Justin Edwards took notes on a few underclassmen they saw and new NCAA rules allow them to approach soon-to-be juniors on June 15.

“For us at West Liberty, we’re just about done recruiting for 2013, so we’re looking at 2014 and 2015 now and this is a great start right here,” Burkle said.

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