St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri on June 29, 1989 · Page 83
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri · Page 83

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St. Louis, Missouri
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Thursday, June 29, 1989
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Page 83
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ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH es3dMETRO sports THURSDAY, JUNE 29, 1989 9W BASEBALL Cooper Gary Cooper is not thinking about the past. His concerns are with the future. "The things that happened, happened. And there's nothing I can do about it now," said Cooper, a Lafayette High graduate who recently completed his sophomore season of eligibility with the Meramec Community College baseball team. "I just want to play baseball." A year ago, Cooper appeared to be well on his way to fulfilling a life-long dream. Drafted by the California Angels in the 28th round of the major league amateur draft, Cooper was as Johnson Earns Second Chance By Kevin E. Boone Of the Post-Dispatch Staff Lee Johnson doesn't like being la-bled a troublemaker. He would rather make trouble for opposing hitters with his 90-mile-plus fastball. At 22, Johnson is wiser, more mature and endowed with a major-league future, thanks to the Chicago White Sox, who signed the former Beaumont High pitcher to a minor league contract following a tryout camp at the Mathews-Dickey Boys Club last week. It's a second chance for Johnson, who was released by the New York Mets organization a year ago after making him their ninth-round draft choice in 1986 out of Beaumont. On June 21, Johnson impressed a White Sox scout enough during a workout at Mathews-Dickey to be signed. He was flown to Sarasota, Fla., on Monday and assigned to Utica, N. Y a Class A minor-league affiliate. "The guy couldn't understand why he was ever released by the Mets," John Albert, who conducted the camp at the boys club, said. "He was clocked at 91." Johnson always had a good heater and his curve ball isn't bad, either. But Johnson threw scouts a curve when the Mets Class A team in Little Falls, N.Y., cut him in June, 1988. Johnson, 21 at the time, didn't have a problem with either drugs or alcohol abuse. His future with the Mets looked promising after a 5-3 record at Kings-port, Tenn. of the Applalacian Rookie League Ip 1986. So why was he released? , "I got into it with the pitching coach," Johnson said. The pitching coach was Joel Hor-len, a former standout hurler for the White Sox. He and Johnson didn't see eye to eye and the latter wound up out of baseball for a year. Now he's going back. "Yeah, I'm going to work hard at it," Johnson said. "It's a hard road, but I know what to expect. I know self-control." That's different from mound control, which Johnson demonstrated as few have from this area in recent years. His senior year, Johnson set a school strikeout record with 136 and posted a 9-0 record to lead Beaumont to the Missouri Class 4A quarterfinals. Fiala Has As the St. Louis Yankees prepare for the rugged Wichita Broncos Fourth of July Baseball Tournament, manager Neil Fiala really isn't sure what to expect. "We're good enough to win it," he said. "But the other teams are good enough that we could end up finishing last, too. It's that good a tournament. "It should be a very challenging weekend for us." The Yankees, a top local independent squad featuring some of the area's best college-age players, are one Picture Appears Bleak For Edwardsville Sports Teams By Dan O'Neill Of the Post-Dispatch Staff In the movie "The Deerhunter," actor Robert DeNiro scolded one of his hunting buddies who is playing around with a gun. DeNiro showed a bullet to his buddy and said: "This is this," DeNiro said. "This isn't something else. This is this." The meaning applies well to the Edwardsville High athletics situation. Last week, patrons in the Edwardsville School District voted down a referendum that would have provided relief for Edwardsville High's endangered sports programs and other extra-curricular activities. The vote was the third time such a referendum has been defeated. Edwardsville is playing with a loaded gun and its about to go off where its sports programs aTe concerned. This is this, Edwardsville. This isn't something else. This is this. "Down deep," Edwardsville baseball coach Tom Pile said. "All you can see is the fringe it's going to cost me $300 or $500. But they don't look beyond that and see what's behind it. "If you don't have sports and you don't have good schools, and the kids leave and go somewhere else, what's your house going to be worth. Every business in town is going to be hurting. People aren't seeing the big picture." Is Hoping signed to the Angels' Northwest League Class A club in Bend, Ore. But the dream came to a nightmarish end when Cooper was released after just 28 days. "I don't want to make any excuses. Things just didn't work out," Cooper said. "The manager and I had a personality conflict and I didn't handle it very well. There was a situation or two and I probably opened my mouth a little too often. "Before I really knew what had happened, I was on my way back home." Cooper, a hard-hitting third base He was a Post-Dispatch All-Metro pick. A leg injury last year caused Johnson problems. "The pitching coach thought I was hot-dogging it," Johnson said. "He told me to run sprints and I couldn't. He didn't like me and I didn't like him. One of us had to go. I guess it was me." The problems between Johnson and Horlen never reached the confrontational stage, but "he knew I didn't like it. I couldn't run and I didn't want to mess my leg up anymore. He thought I was lying." Johnson's leg hurt so badly that at times he had to remove his spikes and run bare-footed because the impact of the shoes worsened the pain. "I had to run bare-footed because of the spikes, but it didn't get any better," hesaid. Johnson said he was warned to stay clear of the pitching coach. Ex-Cardinals centerfielder "Bake McBi ide and a couple of other coaches were offering advice like 'get straight because the pitching coach doesn't like you.' I asked the pitching coach what was wrong and he couldn't tell me. "I sucked it in during running drills and came in first place. Three days later, I was released." Johnson was disappointed, to say the least, but never gave up hope. After returning to St. Louis, Johnson hooked on with Joe Sotolar's Pointers team in the CYC Major League last summer. This summer he got another opportunity to prove his talents and the White Sox scout was impressed. Those who know his talents aren't surprised that he got another chance. ' "Oh no, I'm not surprised at all," Johnson's high school coach, Rudy Batiste, said. "All he needed was someone to look at him. I'm the one who told him about the tryout camp. "I knew he would get signed by someone. All he needed was a second chance. If the Mets had given him a second chance. . ." Johnson might have latched on with a major league team sooner, but he thinks teams were reluctant because they were mystified as to why he was released. "They told me they had to look into some things with the Mets and see Yanks Ready For Tough Test of six teams slated to play in Wichita. Others include the Broncos of the Jay-hawk League, the Fort Worth (Texas) Tigers, the Capahas of Cape Girardeau and the Cubs and Rangers of Tulsa, Okla. The Broncos are the defending champions; the Yankees took third in the tournament last year. "It's a good chance for us to see some teams that we normally don't get a chance to play," said Fiala, a former pro player who spent time in the St. Louis and Cincinnati organiza The immediate picture has become increasingly bleak. The state legislature recently voted down a tax proposal that would have earmarked a percentage of funds for Edwardsville schools. Hope remains that a revised version will be approved this week before the legislature closes shop for the summer. If not, the alternatives are not pretty. "What we will do here, I don't know," Pile said. "Some avenues are out there, but they're not good. One might be fund raisers. Another would be pay as you play, but that's not very good when you think about it because then you get into patronage." Edwardsville basketball coach Mike Waldo believes a solution will materialize. "We've still got some people who are willing to fund it privately, I think," Waldo said. "I still feel we'll have our programs." If the only avenue is a dead end, some of the area's top coaches will be stifled. The development would be particularly frustrating for Waldo, who left Alton Marquette after the 1987-88 school year to come to Edwardsville. He led the Tigers to the sectional finals in Class AA before they lost to eventual state champion Lincoln. "I'm still planning on us playing sports," Waldo said. "That's the way For Another Opportunity At Pros manoutfielder, was batting around .280 at the time. "I know I made some mistakes, but I don't think it was completely my fault, either," he said of the release. "On the field, I was busting my butt, giving them everything I had. But it just didn't work out. "I just hope I can get a second chance to show that I've learned from my mistakes." Cooper, who hit .360 with eight home runs and 60 runs batted in at Meramec, is enjoying a solid summer with KMOX Radio of the Metro Collegians Instructional League. Lee Johnson is happy that he is what was wrong for a kid who was throwing 91 mph and was released," Johnson said. Eventually, Johnson said scouts got their answer. "They scouts said it was something to do with the scouts that signed me, because five other players got released the same year I got released," Johnson said. "That was the reason they gave me a chance." Now, Johnson has a new start. He was flown to Sarasota, Fla., Monday tions. "These are six really good teams and I mean it when I say any one of them is capable of winning." The Yankees will open play 11 a.m. Saturday in the round-robin format, taking on the Tigers of Fort Worth. "They beat us twice last year in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Association Tournament in Cincinnati," said Fiala, whose team took fifth in the national tournament. "We know we're in for a real battle to open the tournament." Following the round-robin competi I've approached from the start and I've talked to all our kids the same way. I haven't even thought about it otherwise. We've told our players, 'Don't make any hasty decisions.' If they have to transfer, they'll still have time to do that. But we don't think it will come to that." Pile, who has coached Edwardsville to two state titles, is one of the best known baseball coaches in the area. But he is more concerned about the clttll6tS "The tragedy of it all is the kids," Pile said. "I'm heartbroken for the kids. "Let's face reality, we're building a new YMCA, an addition to the YMCA. We're building a new library, and I'm for those things 100 percent. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for those things. But, and naturally I'm biased, but is that what is best for the kids?" Pile thinks the community has gotten ahead of itself. "What's happened is Edwardsville is trying to be an affluent community, which is fine. But to me, the school and kids are more important than the "Y" or the library. I'm all for them, but those are things that are above and beyond the basics of what. we need. "What good is a library full of books if I don't have a good education to use , See SPORTS, Page 10 v ft ' -9" Sfe i $ i, '. $ i y ' , ' ;, - j "I'm just trying to relax and hopefully draw some interest from the scouts," said Cooper, who's hitting .383 with two homers and 19 RBIs. KMOX manager Bob Williams is hopeful at Cooper will get another opportunity. "Coop's a big, strong guy who can really drive the ball. And he's only 21," the manager said. "I think he still has a lot of potential." But Cooper's experience with the Angels has changed his approach to baseball. "When I was younger, playing pro ball was all I ever thought about," said Ted DarganPost-Dispatch getting a second chance. before he was assigned to the Utica farm club. It was like old times. In high school, he and former Pat-tonville standout Scott Cooper currently of the Red Sox farm system were the hottest things going in St. Louis prep baseball. "Cooper was a good hitter," Batiste said. "He wasn't as good a pitcher as Lee. He may not do it right away. There are a few things he's got to work out, but he's got good stuff. He See JOHNSON, Page 10 tion, the top two teams will meet for the title while the next two play for third place. "This'll be an excellent test for our ballclub because you're forced to play so many games in such a short period of time," Fiala said. "To win the tournament, you'll play six games in three days, so obviously pitching is going to be a real key. "We know we're going to have to play some outstanding baseball to See YANKS, Page 10 III H 1 " r 1 Odell Mitchell Jr.Post-Dlspatch A celebration such as this one after the Ed- isn't found for the district's athletic teams and wardsville High basketball team defeated Alth- other activities. All outside activities have off this past season may be a memory if money been cut to save money. y Cooper, who stands 6 feet 3 and weighs 190 pounds. "But now I'm putting a lot more emphasis on getting my degree. If baseball works out, great. But it's not something I'm counting on anymore." An outstanding center fielder in high school, Cooper accepted a scholarship to the University of Missouri-Columbia but never really felt at home there. "I was red-shirted and just didn't feel I was getting the work I needed," he recalled. Cooper got a new start as a third baseman the following year at Scotts- SOCCER SLUM Standout Has Grand Finale Mark Strothkamp sure knows how to make an exit. Playing in what well could be his last soccer game in St. Louis, Strothkamp stole the show at last weekend's sixth annual North-South All-Star Game at St. Louis Soccer Park. Strothkamp, a graduate of St. Louis University High, scored a goal and had two assists to help lead the underdog South to a 5-4 victory in penalty kicks. Not surprisingly, Strothkamp was named the South's MVP. "It was just one of those games where everything seemed to go my way," said Strothkamp, who also scored in the penalty-kick shootout. "To be honest, I was a little surprised because I really didn't feel like I was in game shape. I hadn't played in a game since early May, but everything just seemed to fall into place. "I wanted to make a strong showing in front of the St. Louis fans because I probably won't be playing here again at least not for a while. But everything worked out better than I ever dreamed it could." Strothkamp scored the game's opening goal on a rebound after just 3 minutes and 22 seconds, but his true playmaking ability was evidnt during the South's comeback late in regulation. Down 3-1 with less than five minutes to play, the South made its move. Strothkamp picked up a loose ball near midfield. He dribbled down the middle, faked right and then laid off a picture-perfect pass to Vianney's Mike Tracy, who banged a shot to the far corner. Then he led another surge in overtime after the South fell behind 4-3. His lofted corner kick found Vianney's John O'Brien out front. O'Brien's shot through a crowd tied the game and sent it to penalty kicks. The South won when Affton's Steve Peters scored in the fourth round of sudden-death penalty kicks. "Just being named to play in a game like that is a real honor," Strothkamp said. "But to play as well as I did really made it special. "A big, wide-open field like that really brings out the best in me. There was a lot of open space and it allowed me to do the things I like to do." Playing well in big games is nothing new for Strothkamp, a third-team Post-Dispatch All-Metro midfielder at SLUH. "Most of it comes from determination and hard work," he said. "Sure, there've been some games when I just don't get the job done, but it always seems like I've been able to play my best against the best like CBC, Vian-ney and DeSmet. "I've always tried to give it the best effort I can and I guess it's paid off." Strothkamp, a two-year varsity performer at SLUH, led the Junior Billi-kens as a senior with 17 goals and 15 assists. He was also a top scorer with the COS Under-19 select squad. : S" if 1 SOT: X J dale (Ariz.) Community College, where he hit. 380 with 12 home runs and 58 RBIs. Cooper returned home and began last summer with Interco of the Metro League. Then came the call from the Angels. "At the time, it was a dream come-true," Cooper recalled. "But I'm still hopeful. If I didn't think there was a chance to be re-signed, I probably wouldn't be playing now." If Cooper doesn't get re-signed, he likely will continue his career at either Missouri Baptist College or Hun-See COOPER, Page 10 I wanted to make a strong showing in front of the St. Louis fans because I probably won't be playing here again at least not for a while. But everything worked out better than I ever dreamed it could. If MARK STROTHKAMP St. Louis U. High soccer player "I'm not real big (5 feet 8, 140 pounds) and I'm not real fast, but I've learned how to adjust," he said. "I've taken my share of knocks, but I'm not afraid to go into a 50-50 ball. I've always liked the one-on-one challenge of soccer." Speaking of challenges, Strothkamp is coming upon another in the next few weeks. He's accepted an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and leaves for basic training Saturday. "I'll be in basic training from July 3 to August 11. Then soccer begins August 14," he said. "It sounds pretty tough, but it's something I'm really looking forward to. Like I said, I've always liked a challenge." Strothkamp wil study either aerospace or mechanical engineering in the hopes of someday becoming a pilot. After getting his education, he'll spend the next five years in the Navy as an officer. "This is something I've been thinking about since the end of my junior season," Strothkamp said. "I guess the military's in my blood. My dad was in the Army, I had a brother in the Marines and another brother is in the Air Force. "We live out in the country (in Pacific) and our mail box is about a half mile from our house. But when I got the letter of acceptance, my mom said she could hear me celebrating. This is something I've dreamed about." In addition to a top-flight education and the military training, Strothkamp is also joining a top soccer program at Navy. "Their conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, gets an automatic NCAA bid and they won the conference last year," he said. "I know I can't just walk in and play, but I'm looking forward to the chance to prove myself. - "To me, college soccer is just another challenge." And Mark Strothkamp has never met a challenge he didn't enjoy. 4 '5 Tin lr . k 3i jar v 41 - W - i, JuiC Y J

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