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NOW honors 20 years of All-Suburban baseball

Aug. 18, 2009

Over the last two decades, thousands of high school baseball players have donned their school's colors and taken the field in local suburbs.

Hundreds of different coaches have hit pregame fungos and huddled up their teams for postgame final words.

Three head coaches - Franklin's Jim Hughes, Nicolet's Dick Sykes and South Milwaukee's John Galewski - have been with their respective schools since 1990, the first year of the NOW All-Suburban Baseball Team. The trio has witnessed a lot of changes to the game since that time.

"Baseball has become a 12-month-a-year sport, at least with the kids that are really good at it or want to be good at it," Galewski said. "Even though they might not be specializing in it (exclusively), they are working at it 12 months a year."

Hughes said he prefers athletes that do not train for and play baseball exclusively.

"I've always taken a liking to kids that play football," Hughes said. "They are tougher mentally because they get knocked around a little bit. Football's not for everybody. I don't get as many football players or three-sport kids, throwbacks, like I used to."

Hughes cited improved weight training and the advent of specialized camps and clinics, in which athletes can focus on specific areas of the game like pitching or catching, as major changes over the last two decades.

Galewski mentioned the spike in traveling/elite teams.

But one thing is for certain. Since 1990, some of the state's premiere baseball talent has come from the Milwaukee suburbs, and the NOW sports staff has recognized that talent with its annual All-Suburban team. Players like recent Major League Baseball draft picks Kevin James of Whitefish Bay and Tony Harper and Tony Butler of Oak Creek have all been selected for the local postseason honor.

"Tony Butler was probably as dominating a player as you'll find in high school," Hughes said. "We never beat him in the three years he played against us, the years they won state titles. He's a guy that sticks out the most to me. And (Jeff) Donovan at Tosa East is another one."

The NOW sports staff chose a 25-player roster and one coach as representatives on the 20th anniversary All-Suburban Baseball Team. Years in parentheses represent years on the All-Suburban Team.

Catchers

Steve Daniels ('03-05) of Nicolet was one of just 10 three-time selections in the NOW team's history. He never batted lower than .442 in the three years he made the team and stole a ridiculous 48 of 49 bases as a senior.

The only catcher to be named the NOW player of the year, Franklin's Matt Tyger ('93), moved from Pennsylvania prior to the school year and proceeded to hit .451 with 41 RBIs while helping the Sabers to a 34-3 record. He was the last of three consecutive NOW players of the year from Franklin.

Pitchers

Steve Grzeszkiewicz's ('90-92) only loss in his four-year career at Franklin came in the state tournament as a senior, a year the Sabers went 37-2. The NOW player of the year in 1992 and two-time all-state choice, who stood 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 230 pounds, went 24-0 during the regular seasons of the years he made the NOW team with a 0.60 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 139 innings.

Germantown's Ben Kaebisch ('96-97) put together consecutive 100-strikeout seasons before a career at Purdue University. He threw two no-hitters as a junior and was one pitch away from a perfect game against Waukesha West the next season.

Whitefish Bay's Kevin James ('08-09) was taken in the ninth round by the Tampa Bay Rays in June. In his final campaign with the Blue Dukes, James was the NOW co-player of the year after striking out 106 in 51 innings with a 0.77 ERA. He also hit .448 six home runs; as a junior, he batted .550.

Tony Butler ('04-05), Oak Creek's career record holder in nearly every major pitching category, won the NOW player of the year award unanimously in 2005 after going 11-1 with a 0.71 ERA (and a school record 50 RBIs). He helped Oak Creek win an unprecedented three straight state titles. He would have been the front-runner for the 2006 award had he not been drafted in the third round by the Seattle Mariners - the highest selection in NOW history - and opted to end his final prep season after a few starts. As it stands, no player has won NOW's top player award more than once.

Josh Eidt ('02, '04) likely would have been a three-time NOW pick had an elbow injury not cost the Brookfield Central standout his junior year. He returned from the setback to go 7-0 with a 0.93 ERA as a senior after going 7-2 with a 1.41 ERA as a sophomore. He had a devastating curveball and stealth pickoff move.

Outfielders

Danny Winn ('90) of Nicolet was a trailblazer, the first athlete ever named the NOW player of the year and batted .522 with North Shore Conference-bests in hits, RBIs and slugging percentage in 1990. He went on to have a four-year career at Eastern Kentucky.

Franklin's Jason Herrick ('90-91) was a two-time all-state selection and two-time Parkland Conference player of the year. He followed a junior campaign in which he hit .450 with 29 RBIs with a senior-year effort that included a .489 batting average, 45 RBIs and 51 runs scored.

Dan Havey ('93-95) was an offensive force for South Milwaukee for four varsity seasons, his best arguably as a junior when he batted .429 with 42 RBIs in 28 games. But his defense stood out as well; the left fielder had nine assists as a sophomore and scaled fences to bring back three home runs as a senior.

Cudahy's J.J. Kotarek ('94-95) batted .500 as a junior, the season in which he won the player of the year award. He burst onto the scene by raising his batting average 181 points from his sophomore effort. Kotarek batted .427 and made the NOW team the next year despite battling a leg injury all season.

Only two players have been named to the NOW football, baseball and basketball teams in the same season. West Allis Central's Johnny Meier ('00-01) was the first when he won the NOW player of the year award in 2001, the same year he was the Greater Metro and District 8 player of the year. In his final two varsity seasons, Meier also went 10-0 with an ERA well under 2.00.

Doug Dekoning ('05-07) bounced around the field before settling mostly in the outfield as a senior, the year he won the NOW player of the year award for Menomonee Falls. He never batted lower than .448 in his three-year NOW run and posted arguably his best season as a junior (.526, 36 RBIs; also 7-0 with 0.45 ERA).

Infielders

Chris Simonsen ('94-96) was a three-year letterwinner and for three-time Southeast Conference Central Division champion Muskego. The switch-hitting first baseman had his finest season as a senior when he batted .540 with five home runs.

Tim Meinecke ('96-97) led Wauwatosa East to a state title in 1997, the year he was the NOW player of the year. He knocked in 48 runs and had 20 extra-base hits and went 11-2 on the hill. A year earlier, he hit .467 and posted a 1.94 ERA.

Third baseman Shane Davis ('98-00) of Brookfield Central was a power-hitting phenom during his NOW run and finished it as the player of the year in 2000, the year the Lancers won the state title. That season he belted 15 home runs, drove in 50 RBIs and batted .490 before playing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

As Davis' NOW run ended, teammate Mike Rohde's ('00-02) began. The shortstop, who went on to play at the University of New Orleans, led Brookfield Central to state tournaments in 2000 and 2001, and was the state and NOW player of the year after batting .543 in 2002.

Oak Creek has produced a ton of talent over the years, but J.T. Schneider ('08-09) the co-player of the year in 2009, holds more school offensive records (six) than any other. Schneider's junior season put him on the map when he batted .451 and set single season school records in hits (60), runs (55), triples (10) and stolen bases (27).

Menomonee Falls' Alex Erdman ('07-08) made the team as an infielder and utility player and was the co-POY in 2008, when he hit .535 with 46 RBIs. One year earlier, he battered pitchers for 25 extra-base hits (including 17 doubles) and reached base at a .507 clip. On the hill, he went 6-0 with a 1.28 ERA.

Before having a successful career at Northwestern University, Anthony Wycklendt ('01-02) enjoyed two dominating seasons for Nicolet, including a junior campaign during which he batted .435 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs. His average dipped a bit as a senior, but his on-base percentage skyrocketed to .597.

Utility

The NOW player of the year in 2006, Sam Sivilotti ('05-06) of Nicolet registered 40 extra-base hits and 91 runs scored while batting .523 or better twice in his final two seasons. The two-time all-state choice was walked intentionally 20 times as a senior, the same year in which he went 9-3 with a 1.79 ERA and 82 strikeouts on the hill.

Wauwatosa East's Jeff Donovan ('04-06) did it all for the Red Raiders. He played four positions as a sophomore, pitched 10 complete games as a junior and batted .517 as a senior, the year he was named the Greater Metro Conference player of the year after striking out 76 batters and positing a 1.27 ERA.

Tony Harper ('00-01, '03) led Oak Creek to the first of three straight state titles as a senior in 2003, the year he won NOW's top award, and probably would have been the only four-time NOW team choice had personal problems not sidelined him as a junior. As a senior, he batted .415, went 9-1 with a 0.91 ERA and a school-record 117 strikeouts. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 11th round.

South Milwaukee's Eric Seney ('00-02) batted third or fourth in the lineup for four varsity seasons. His efforts on the mound as a sophomore (6-2, 74 strikeouts, 0.80 ERA) provided the Rockets with their conference title in 15 years. He battled injuries as a junior first baseman/pitcher, but still batted in the .420s his final two seasons.

As a junior, Franklin's Ryan Mentkowski ('98-99) broke out with an all-around season that included a 6-2 record, a 1.88 ERA and 80 strikeouts in only 48 1/3 innings. He also batted .383 and played first base and center field during his career as well.

Coach

Three coaches have been named the NOW coach of the year twice and others have won state tournaments, but none have more wins or state tournament appearances that Franklin's Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association hall-of-famer Jim Hughes, who won NOW's top award in 1992 and again in 1994. Hughes has six state tournament berths under his belt, all coming between 1990 and today, and is second in state history with 718 career wins.

NOW sportswriter Steven L. Tietz contributed to this story.

Suburban stars

A total of 325 players and coaches have been named to the NOW All-Suburban Baseball Team in its 20-year history. Here is a breakdown of selections by school:

31: Franklin, Nicolet

22: Whitnall

21: Muskego

20: Oak Creek

19: Brookfield Central

16: Menomonee Falls, Wauwatosa East

15: Cudahy, New Berlin West, West Allis Hale

13: Homestead, South Milwaukee

12: Greenfield

9: Brown Deer

8: Whitefish Bay

7: St. Thomas More

6: St. Francis, West Allis Central

5: Brookfield East, Hamilton, New Berlin Eisenhower

4: Germantown

2: Bay View, Greendale, Wauwatosa West, West Milwaukee

1: Dominican, Shorewood, University School

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