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PONY stars hit stride in high school

May 16, 2004|By BOB PARASILITI

Rick Suder has been on a nostalgia kick lately.

He rustles through his collection of stories and pictures which surround the 2000 Hagerstown team he managed at the PONY League World Series in Washington, Pa. He replays some of the games and thinks back fondly to some of the players.

"I get out all my old books and go through the memories," Suder said. "I just like to look at them every once in a while. I get to sit back and watch them all get better. I can't put it into words ... but it all puts a smile on my face."

It's a grin that won't fade, just like those memories.

That's because Suder's memories of the past are the future of baseball in Hagerstown. And that future is now.

Ten of the 16 players associated with Suder's PONY All-Star team are now key contributors in Western Maryland high school programs as the regional playoffs begin. Nine of them are key players in Washington County while the 10th, left-handed pitcher Chris Smith, is a mainstay for Southern Garrett, the top seed in the Class 1A West tournament.

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"That was just a good group of kids," said Suder, who resides in Smithsburg. "More than anything, they were kids who wanted to play baseball and they wanted to get better at it. That's a lot different than it is right now. Now it seems like they are just out there to play, just to stay away from computers."

The 2000 collection of players was indeed a rare breed. It might be the closest Suder felt to being just like Joe Torre with his mini-version of the star-studded New York Yankees team, which finished 3-2 and in third place in the eight-team international tournament.

Consider:

n The team started with pitchers Nick Adenhart and T.J. Hose. Adenhart is a senior at Williamsport and is projected to be one of the top 10 players - possibly as high as second - chosen in next month's Major League Baseball amateur draft.

"Nick is Nick," Suder said. "I think at the time everyone thought he had a shot at being where he's at today. He was just a level above everyone else. He was a competitor ... he hated to lose, even way back then. He's special."

Adenhart had already acquired the mindset to become a major league pitcher by the time he was in the PONY League.

"He probably had someone working with him, even back then," Suder said. "He'd go home after games and throw 50 pitches. It helped increase his arm strength. But Nick has always taken care of his arm. We'd go out because we'd be thinking we were letting him throw too much and he would look at us and say he would tell us when he needed to come out."

Meanwhile, Hose is starring at North Hagerstown and has signed to play at East Carolina next year with a chance to also be drafted.

"T.J. was one of the smartest 14-year-old pitchers back then," Suder said. "He had a sneaky fastball, but he could outthink a lot of players. He's made himself into something now because of his ability to think while he is pitching."

n These PONY All-Stars had speed. There was David Miner and Bryson Appel, who both play for South Hagerstown and were part of last year's Class 1A state championship team, as well as Ben Jordan (Williamsport) and Jeremy Everitts (Clear Spring).

Miner's speed has him considered a possibility for the draft and Appel is working as the Rebels' leadoff hitter in a quest to win the Class 2A title this season. Jordan has been a versatile performer for the Wildcats and has been their leading hitter each of the past two seasons. Everitts elected to quit playing baseball to compete in track at Clear Spring and, now, Hagerstown Community College.

"David is a talent," Suder said. "When I had David, he was fine. He did everything we wanted and put his all into it. If he puts it all together, he'll do fine."

n Drew Crawford and T.J. Bowser, who both play for Smithsburg, were solid contributors for the team. Phil Saloom, now with Clear Spring, was a valuable utility player.

"I remember Phil coming up to me during the World Series and told me, 'One day, I'm going to play Major League Baseball,'" Suder said. "I don't know if he will ever have the chance, but it shows what kind of drive these kids had."

n One player who never got the chance to play in the World Series was Kyle Robinson (North Hagerstown), who was sidelined because of an injury.

"Kyle had broken his leg in two places and couldn't play," Suder said. "We allowed him to come with the team. He made it and that was the least we could do for him."

Other players had their moments with the PONY stars. Josh Mitchell was Suder's first baseman and pitcher and Smith got his start in Hagerstown before heading to Garrett County. Tim Kellinger was another player who opted to compete away from the baseball field, taking up basketball at St. Maria Goretti.

"We really did have good kids," Suder said. "They wanted to have fun ... there wasn't a troublemaker among them. I didn't know they would have this kind of success. Some kids peak about the time they hit PONY League, but all of them kept improving and they all did it in different sports, too."

The former 2000 Hagerstown PONY All-Stars continue to work their way onto the local sports pages, allowing Suder's memories to remain vivid. For Suder, it's nice to know he was involved with a group which has had such a considerable impact.

"This is a good baseball area," Suder said. "Hagerstown, Waynesboro, Chambersburg, Martinsburg and Jefferson ... there have been a lot of good players who have gone through, but none of them have been as talented as this bunch. It says a lot for one group of kids who have worked hard and have advanced themselves."

And that's reason enough to keep the smile on Rick Suder's face.

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