Seniors second chance: Minster baseball

Seth Kinker
Sports Editor

*This article appears in the Jul. 9 edition of The Community Post 

The spring sport season for high school athletics was canceled in late April due to COVID-19. 

Normally for ACME summer baseball, seniors from the spring move on to the next step in their lives whether that be preparing for more school or to enter the workforce. 

The ACME baseball summer league was canceled this year, but local area teams were still able to put together individual schedules to ensure baseball would be played once restrictions loosened. 

In addition to baseball being played and in light of the unprecedented pandemic, any seniors that wanted to play was permitted to do so.

Austin Brown, a left-handed pitcher headed to Wright State Lake Campus next year, and Jack Olberding, their leadoff center fielder and pitcher, is heading to Toledo, were the two of 12 seniors that decided to suit up this summer for the Wildcats. 

“When the coronavirus first started back in January, it wasn’t really in my mind (that we wouldn’t have a season),” said Brown. “I was just excited to be back in the gym, working out with our guys again. It was state championship or bust. We knew we had the pieces, the guys, the experience, to be the best team in the state. That’s what we had our eyes on.”

“I was pretty upset knowing we had a good class and how far we made it last year,” said Olberding on the season being canceled. “With those guys coming back, I knew we would’ve been pretty good. But you can’t do anything about it. I’d rather stay healthy and keep us boys and everyone else safe.” 

“We practiced maybe for a week (before everything was canceled),” said Olberding. “We had a last hit here, people were saying school was going to be done, so we hit here and it was a little emotional, being the last time here with (the other seniors).” 

The other seniors in that class, Trent Roetgerman, Jacob Niemeyer, Justin Mox, Gabe Phillips, AJ Heitkamp, Kyle Riethman, Ethan Lehmkuhl, Daniel Gottschalk, Dylan Sharp and Alex Scmitmeyer, brought back a wealth of experience that had the Wildcats excited for the spring season. 

“As hard as it was not to get us 12 seniors on the field together, it was something we overcame together,” said Brown. “We talked with each other and had parent support and made things a lot easier but it was heartbreaking for sure.”

Deciding to play 

Brown has been playing baseball ever since he moved to Minster in the second grade. 

“All my friends were playing baseball. Little league, it’s what you do,” said Brown on when he first got involved with the sport. “(I) just fell in love with it from there.” 

Brown played basketball and football growing up, but realized baseball was his passion around sixth grade when he figured out it was something he could be really good at. 

Spending time with his best friend, who’s dad was their little league coach, allowed Brown to watch and play a lot of baseball. 

“I just learned to love the slow development of (the game),” said Brown. 

“I think that’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind,” said Brown on continuing his baseball career after high school. “It’s something I’ve always just wanted to do.” 

His recruitment began to pick up around the summer of his junior year, when he began playing with Bo Jackson Elite out of Columbus, which increased his exposure playing with top caliber talent that brought scouts to their games. 

Brown, a former Tiffin commit, had planned to use the spring to get his name back out there and ended up committing to Wright State Lake Campus before COVID-19 began to hit hard. 

“I had a buddy who I played with my sophomore year,” said Brown. “He told me it’s a great program. I know they win a lot, they’re solid, and I knew their coach is a Coldwater guy. Playing for a Coldwater guy you know he knows what he’s doing. He’s going to do it at the highest level and force you to and make you want to, too.”  

For Brown and Olberding, the decision to play this summer came easy. 

“When they announced that we could start playing, coach Wiss texted us seniors, ‘do any of you guys want to play? There’s always spots for you guys.’ I was the first one to jump right on it and said, 'I need to play baseball to keep my mind sane.'"

“It was guaranteed,” echoed Olberding on choosing to play this summer. “I’ve been playing baseball since I was a kid, loved it.” 

Olberding is another lifelong baseball player, starting with simple games of catch with his dad in the backyard. 

His passion for the game came early too, as an elementary student he wrote that he wanted to be a Major League Baseball player. 

His recruitment expanded when he connected with Prep Baseball Report, an independent scouting service, and saw it begin to pick up his junior year when he reached 87 mph at a Wright State camp. 

Some schools offered him a spot from that camp, but they were pitcher only and Olberding is confident in putting his skills to the test as a two-way player. 

Olberding’s commitment to Toledo stemmed from an ACME tournament last year at Coldwater, where his team was playing in the finals. 

“I played pretty good there and they wanted me to come down to campus to a camp and throw there,” said Olberding. “I topped out at 88 there and they offered me a spot and I said, ‘I'm taking it.' It’s always been my dream to play division one.” 

Olberding told The Community Post he’s wanted to go there since his sophomore year. With new coaches, great facilities, and relationships built at the camp he attended, he felt comfortable committing early to the Rockets. 

Returning to the diamond 

Olberding and Brown both are playing lots of baseball this summer to keep them prepared for next year, regardless of what happens with their seasons. 

“I was throwing and hitting on my own, making sure I was good to go in case it ever did happen, or in case it carried over to college, because you can’t walk into college not prepared,” said Olberding who is also suiting up for Piqua’s Legion team.

Brown was planning to play for a legion team but was contacted by Bo Jackson Elite, who offered him the chance to come substitute and get quality repetitions in this summer. 

“(Baseball) is my favorite thing to do,” said Brown. “Taking a summer or whole year off baseball, I don’t know how I would’ve handled it. If baseball is being played and I can play, you’ll find me there.” 

“It was surreal,” added Brown on being able to play for Minster for a few more game this summer. “I put (the jersey) on that afternoon before I left for our first game and it was heartwarming to realize I would be able to suit up for minster multiple more times (this summer). I got to the field, JV played before us, I sat there, I came early just to watch because I hadn’t seen baseball in forever, it was refreshing.” 

Although they are both playing with other teams, both Brown and Olberding will be able to look back on this summer and the last four years with fond memories of the Minster baseball program. 

“(My) brothers,” said Olberding on what he’ll remember. “We grew up as kids together. One of our coaches just passed away, Chico Heitkamp, we had him from t-ball to freshman year. We won so many tournaments with him in little league. I think he built us into who we were, he ripped into us and made sure we were on top of our stuff.” 

“Just the guys we got to play with,” added Brown. “The amount of fun we were able to have while still playing at the top of our game and competing for state and regional championships. Just going out after tournament games and hanging out as a team and enjoying each other and the game we love."