Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: Looking back at baseball . . . and ahead just a bit

Dan Weber
Dan Weber
Dan Weber is LINK nky's sports editor-at-large. Contact him at [email protected]

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If there’s a theme song for the 2022 high school baseball season in Northern Kentucky, the folks running the St. E Healthcare All-Star Game Monday at Dixie Heights hit it perfectly.

“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” piping from the PA system seemed the exactly right musical sendoff to a spring that seemed to have as many wet days as dry ones.

Although when the rain and windstorms had passed through, after arriving in the fourth inning of the opening Juniors game in a doubleheader with the West leading 5-1 despite just one hit – from Conner’s Ayden Lohr – and too many walks and errors, the decision to cut the preliminary game there and go with the Seniors Game was made.

Waiting for the weather to clear up left plenty of time for talking Monday at Dixie Heights (Dan Weber/LINK nky)

Now if only the lightning would have cooperated. But unfortunately, the lightning did what lightning does. And just after the game was turned over to the umpires, the announcement was made for everyone to please head to their cars. And then the word came down 30 minutes later. Game canceled. Maybe next week. But nothing sure right now.

Awards from the Northern Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches were done informally and individually. Photos too. But in the interests of having lightning go 0-for-2022 when it comes to strikes on players and fans, there would be no game on this night.

But as Reds’ fans who go way, way back and remember the late, great Waite Hoyt on the radio, or more recently, Joe Nuxhall, some of the best moments in baseball come during weather delays and all the talk a leisurely game seems so well suited for.

As happened Monday with so many of Northern Kentucky’s top high school baseball guys in attendance talking where their game is these days. And where it had been.

Grady Brown, retired from Newport High but a family fixture in the sport here with his late older brother, Ray, also a longtime Newport coach and his uncle, Red, the longtime Yankees scout, started it.

Talking about those glory years of Northern Kentucky high school baseball when Newport High under Blue Foster won the first-ever state championships in 1940 and 1941.

Then the post-WWII power turned to a school just a couple of blocks away with Newport Catholic winning it all in 1946, 1950, 1954, and 1956 thanks to Jim Connor who had helped Newport to those first two titles as a player and now was back from surviving the D-Day landing to coach NewCath to the final three after Lou Arnzen led the Breds to their first one.

That’s six of the first 16 state baseball titles (no tourney in 1943) won by teams from Newport, a run so special that when it went away, as it did for all but one of the next 46 years, it seemed mostly a fantasy. And twice, local teams were runner-ups – Bellevue in 1947 and NewCath in 1948.

From 1956 to 2002, when Covington Catholic under Bill Krumpelbeck won its state title, only a Jon Draud-led Covington Holmes team on the strong left arm of Gary Sargent in 1963, brought home a title.

Forty-six seasons. And only one other time did a Northern Kentucky team make it to the finals – NewCath in 1976 under football legend Bob Schneider.

It’s not like there haven’t been lots of good things going on around here in baseball. Two of the state’s all-time winningest coaches still active – CovCath’s Krumpelbeck, No. 2 with 1,074 wins in 45 seasons – and Dixie Heights’ Chris Maxwell — No. 4 with 737 wins in his 38 seasons – are still leading the way in these parts.

And with representation in three regions – the traditional Ninth for most of Boone, Campbell, and Kenton, and the Eighth Region, where Simon Kenton competes, along with the 10th, where Campbell County was king this season, Northern Kentucky has actually more opportunity to compete for state titles.

Which is what is happening. Five years in a row, after only Beechwood in 2006 had joined that 1976 NewCath team in 65 years in the championship game, from 2014 through 2018, Northern Kentucky teams made it all the way to the finals.

Simon Kenton under Troy Roberts has done it twice, in 2014 and 2017. Highlands, under Jeremy Baioni, matched that with appearances in 2015 and 2018. Campbell County, under Stephen Schweitzer, made it in 2016. All lost – once apiece – to perennial power Louisville St. Xavier, this year’s champ as well.

But you can’t get there unless you get there. And even though both Beechwood and Campbell County fell a run short of making it to last weekend’s final four, Northern Kentucky is starting to come close again.

As it should. Greater Cincinnati has always been baseball country. And we’re part of that tradition here. There’s been a change in emphasis in the improved facilities and the increased attendance you see everywhere you look with the artificial turf venues at places like Covington’s Meinken Field, Bellevue Vets Park, and Ludlow’s Lemker Field.

Or the meticulously maintained turf that Maxwell has overseen at Dixie. Or the fields where Campbell County and Simon Kenton play to big crowds. Or the now-under-construction new artificial turf field at CovCath. And then there’s Beechwood where fans can’t even remember the forgettable field that once was in Ft. Mitchell with the well-designed multi-use facility there now.

Then add all the newer Boone County facilities to venues here and, combined with the 5 p.m. starting times and JV and freshman teams, you have an explanation for why the game keeps improving in these parts.

Having the 5,000-seat Thomas More Stadium, home of the Florence Y’alls, for the Ninth Region Tournament, doesn’t hurt either.

And with six starters including their top three hitters and four of their top five pitchers returning, don’t count Beechwood out for a run in 2023. That is, if Kevin Gray’s 29-win team can get past a team in their own district, a young CovCath club.

Related:  LINK nky Daily Headlines: June 30, 2022

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