Photo by Caleb Motsinger
Civic Memorial’s Tommy Flack throws out the first pitch at the Bears’ inaugural game.
ALTON – It’s two weeks into their inaugural baseball season and the Metro East Bears are crafting their identity. Call it a work in progress.
They were 8-3 going into play Saturday at the Washington, Mo. tournament. Metro East won its first three games there, including a 5-3 decision over Glendale, Mo. on Friday. Come Monday, the Bears welcome Smithton in a 7:30 game at Edwardsville's Hoppe Park.
Bears’ manager Ken Schaake, who piloted Edwardsville to a Senior Legion World Series title in 1998 and state championship last summer, likes the Metro East setup. The Bears roster features players from six local high schools, plus multiple area colleges.
“The kids seem to get along pretty well and that’s half the battle right there,” Schaake said.
The same goes for the coaches.
“It’s kind of a unique situation,” Schaake said. “We brought in three (former) managers and everything is meshing. Everybody has a little different take on things and the players can take something from each coach.”
Coach Steve Haug directed Alton last season, while Nick Smith was at Bethalto. And Schaake managed Edwardsville. Prep players from Marquette Catholic, Roxana and Brussels are also on the team.
“We did it kind of out of necessity,” Schaake said. “All of us could have scraped together a team, but none of us had a lot of numbers. So if somebody got injured, we’d be in trouble.”
Schaake previously managed the Alton Post 126 team for a season (2010). Thus, working with general manager Dennis Sharp presented no problem.
“I was willing to combine the teams to have kids that were able to play,” Schaake said. “Dennis said it would work for him and I called Nick and he said the same thing.”
Local Legion baseball needed some kind of jolt. District 22, which once had a dozen teams, now has seven. Troy, Highland, Belleville, Fairview Heights, Collinsville, Smithton and Metro East are what’s left for the one-division district.
“The high school summer programs and select ones are killing the Legion programs,” Schaake said. “And we want to be competitive and go on to the next level.”
Thus, Metro East, represented by Post 199, will serve as the defending state champs. Fifth Division play is tentatively scheduled for New Baden. Arlington Heights will play host to the state finals and the Great Lakes Regional sets up shop again in Terre Haute, Ind.
Come 2015 – and 2016 – Alton’s Moore Park could serve as the regional site. The Bears are making a strong bid for the Great Lakes extravaganza, Sharp said.
Hopkins Field welcomed the Legion World Series in 2000, when Danville, Calif., defeated Paducah, Ky., for the title. Alton has also been a venue for a state tourney at Moore Park.
It’s up to the Bears to see how far they can go, Schaake said.
“Pitching and defense are what’s going to win it for you,” he said. “We have the arms, even if we don’t have a lot of game experience. But if you don’t play good defense on top of it, it doesn’t matter.”
He likes the defensive setup, beginning with catcher Nick Paulda of Alton.
“We have a good catcher,” Schaake said. “He’s solid.”