For Wisconsin summer baseball devotees' it is as the saying goes: "Past is now prologue".
For after an intensely competitive 2009 WIAA state tournament series capped off by Arrowhead's wild win over 2008 champ Marquette in the finals, a quick look into the immediate future foresees an equally wild ride in 2010.
Because with so many good teams returning so many fine players next season, the WIAA should forestall any plans to change the system. The summer program finished with 67 teams this year (relatively stable this season after years of decline) and discussions have been ongoing with the coaches association and the WIAA about combining it with the dominant spring season for years.
The intensity of this year's play in the summer tournament and the talent returning next year and even the year after that should give pause to any bureaucratic tinkering just yet, because the potential for these next few seasons is just too exciting to let whither under a cold and rainy spring sky.
Let me show you just the tip of the iceberg of hard hitters and harder throwers who are coming back to heat things up next summer.
The defending champion Warhawks, fresh off their 34-5 championship season, will get hit hard by graduation, but will still return Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-staters infielder Brian Crook (.489 BA) and pitcher Jordan Paszak (11-1, 1.86 ERA). Their fifth-best hitter, outfielder Connor Harmann (.386) will be back to give Arrowhead some strength up the middle. Key losses will include catcher Karl Sprung, who had game-winning hits in both the state finals and in an epic 10-inning sectional semifinal win over Menomonee Falls.
And don't forget the impact of 30-plus year coach Tim O'Driscoll, he of the 700-plus career wins and two state titles. His savvy no doubt had a hand in the Warhawks coming out on top in this year's state event, especially considering that four of Arrowhead's six wins in the tournament were of the extremely harrowing variety.
Of the teams that qualified for the state tournament in 2009, there will be talent galore waiting for a chance to usurp the Warhawks. And a quick glance in the rearview mirror by O'Driscoll will reveal that Marquette, the team of the mediocre 19-20 record going into the finals in Stevens Point, will be a major headache again next summer.
The Hilltoppers stumbled in Greater Metro Conference play this season, finishing with a regular season mark of just 16-20 in a huge rebuilding campaign for veteran coach Jim Wilkinson. But they found their footing in the tournament series and a potential superstar in sophomore utility player Nolan Peterson, who was seven-for-seven in the semifinals and finals combined at state including two home runs and six RBI.
Marquette had only five seniors this season and will also return key state players third baseman Ryan McShane, second baseman Joe Cannon and pitcher Collin Weyer (7-3, 1.63 ERA).
State semifinalist Franklin (25-14), led by another 700-plus win coach in Jim Hughes, started up to six sophomores this season. Two of those are hard-hitting outfielders including NOW All-Suburban outfielder Jay Direnzo (.400 BA, 35 RBI) and Lance Baretz (.407 BA, 23 RBI). The Sabers will also return their top two pitchers in junior Brandon Wiedenfeld (6-2, 2.47 ERA) and sophomore Ian Malmstadt (4-1. 2.87 ERA).
Muskego (24-10) was another state semifinalist, was also co-champ in the Greater Metro Conference South Division and had only four seniors on its roster. Sophomore NOW All-Suburban pitcher Cole Borek (11-1. 1.97 ERA) will lead the Warriors into battle next season as will junior catcher Nick McCormack (.368, 23 RBI) and sophomore outfielder/pitcher Adam Schulz (.364)
Also looming not so far in the distance is 2007 champ West Bend West, who survived a "rebuilding" season with a fine 26-6 record, that included a tough loss to Arrowhead in the quarterfinals. The Spartans, who were runners-up to the junior-dominated Nicolet squad (28-6) in the North Shore, had just two seniors, but one of them was WBCA State Player of the Year Ryan Schilter (.514, 46 RBI, 4-0, 1.64 ERA).
Junior outfielder/pitcher Eric DuCharme (.430, 37 RBI) and sophomore pitcher/infielder Shane Hayes (.427, 28 RBI) will lead the way for the Spartans, who if they want to succeed next season, will first have to get by that aforementioned Nicolet bunch in the North Shore. The Knights tatooed West in a pair of games this season by a combined score of 30-3.
Those Knights, paced by NOW All-Suburban Coach of the Year Dick Sykes, who will pass the 500-career win mark next season, will be led by returning NOW All-Suburban selections outfielder Brian Huntsinger (also first-team all-state WBCA), pitcher/catcher Sam Kohnke (second-team all-state) and infielder Rob Mayer.
Sykes, who like Hughes and O'Driscoll, is a WBCA Hall of Famer, gets a lot of respect from his players and that'll count for a lot when the Knights try to go even further next summer.
"He knows a lot of baseball, so you really have to listen to him and be aware of what he expects in certain situations," Mayer said. "You mess up, he lets you know about it but then he moves past it quickly and praises you when you do something right."
West Salem (28-2) put up gaudy numbers out west, but was overmatched by Marquette in the state quarterfinals. That still didn't prevent sophomore second-team all-state catcher Tony Schultz from putting up some truly eye-popping numbers including a .632 batting average (43 of 68) and 34 RBI.
Other area teams that didn't make state but which will be factors next season, include Woodland Conference champ New Berlin West, which had 10 sophomores on its roster and Menomonee Falls, which won 29 games despite heavy graduation losses in the last two seasons. The Indians scared the heck out of Arrowhead in the sectionals and will return 10 juniors. Veteran coach Pat Hansen will also have the luxury of surveying the products of a stunningly talented freshmen bunch that went 24-0 this season.
So here's to the summer of 2010, with its American Legion ball up north and its tough as nails WIAA-sponsored brand based largely in the Milwaukee area. They can co-exist just fine, because there's just that much talent to go around.
Retired Hall of Fame coach Dick Huxtable certainly thinks so.
"Summer ball is better than spring," said Huxtable, who coached in both seasons. "Summer ball doesn't affect school as much and the weather is no comparison. You don't have competition for facilities and the better kids are playing in spring (non-school) leagues before you get them, so they come in ready to go."