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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri • Page 69

St. Louis, Missouri
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ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH June 29, 1 987 5N iasehall Ohse-rows sticking on Eldridge Baseball club in hitting (.377) and runs batted in (19), he's also filled a number of defensive roles first base, third base, outfield, pitcher and even catcher. "(Starting catcher) Billy Cochrum got hurt and I was basically looking for volunteers," Franzen recalled. Up stepped Eldridge, who now admits that he'd never caught in competition before. "It was the one position I'd never played before," he said.

"But I had caught a lot of bullpen at school (Scottsdale Community College on Arizona). The coaches in Scottsdale had told me to work on my catching, and I figured this would be a perfect chance. "People keep telling me I'm crazy to want to catch, but I really enjoy the challenge. It's definitely the hardest position I've ever played, but it's also a lot of fun because you're always involved and into the game. Besides, I figure every position I can play is another chance to be in the starting lineup." While he still has plenty of work to do, Eldridge's initiation to catching has been rel man.

At the same time, however, he'd like to see Eldridge relax a little more. "Any time you get that college experience, it makes a heck of a difference," Franzen said. "The kids are looking to Rodney, and he's been doing a pretty good job. But I think he's trying too hard to do it all himself. He's been pressing a little.

"Mainly, Rodney just needs to relax and let his natural ability take over." Eldridge agrees: "Mainly, I just have to concentrate on being disciplined. I consider myself a pretty good hitter, but I've probably been worrying too much about hitting the long ball. I just need to work on hitting the ball hard every time." For now, Eldridge is looking for a good season heading into the fall season. "Getting a chance to play college ball in Arizona is a real plus, and I want to make the most of it," he said. "I know the coaches in Scottsdale are going to give me a chance, but I've got to work hard and show I can do the job." atively smooth.

"For a kid who's never caught before, Rodney's been doing a helluva job," Franzen said. "I've been real lucky so far. I really haven't been hit yet, and I haven't been run over by anybody," the versatile Eldridge said. "Right now, I'm just trying to learn all I can about the position." Eldridge is back with Thoman after taking off last year to work on his studies at Hampton (Va.) University. "I really liked Hampton, but they don't have a baseball progarm," he said.

"I had even thought about playing football there until I heard from the coaches at Scottsdale." While visiting home over the Fourth of July weekend last year, Eldridge was contacted by John Kazanis, an assistant coach at Scottsdale. Kazanis, a native St Louisan, still has strong St. Louis ties. "They had recruited (DeSmet teammate) Chris Dix, and Chris told them about me," said Eldridge, 18. "After they talked to me, I decided that Scottsdale would be a good place for me." After starting in right field during the first half of the season, Eldridge found himself on the bench as Scottsdale went to more experienced players in its quest for a national title.

"As we got closer to the playoffs, they went more and more with the sophomores," said Eldridge, a 190-pounder. "I had gone into a slump after starting pretty well, and the ballclub really started playing well." Scottsdale came on during the playoffs to defeat Arizona JUCO powers Pima and Mesa. Scottsdale ended up taking fifth in the national tournament in Grand Junction, Colo. "Just being a part of that kind of success was a real thrill," said Eldridge, who finished the season with a .294 batting average. "I learned an awful lot about baseball this year, and now I'm trying to apply it all to the Legion season.

I want to have a good year here, and then go back to Arizona and make the most of my opportunity." As a returning college player, Franzen looks to Eldridge as a team leader at Tho When it comes to playing baseball, Rodney Eldridge is willing to do almost anything. Even catch. "I just love to play the game," said Eldridge, who has played a variety of positions already this season for the Thoman-Boothe American Legion team. "Basically, I just want to find a spot where I can help the ballclub." Eldridge, a 1986 graduate of DeSmet High, is back with Thoman after a year's absence. Two years ago, he was a young, talented but erratic shortstop for coach Aaron Franzen's club.

This year, he's done a little of everything. "Rodney's been a real pleasant surprise for us," Franzen said. "He started off and on two years ago, but he's a much different player now. He's really been playing well for us." Eldridge, a football and baseball star at DeSmet, has helped Thoman in a number of ways this season. In addition to leading the Summer Baseball Softball AAU Metro Collegians League Leaders (Through Saturday) LEADING HITTERS HRBI Avg Name, School AB 31 37 .500 19 16 .500 .488 21 14 16 6 26 7 19 7 22 12 26 15 21 8 14 7 24 4 18 9 .485 .473 .452 .449 .448 .447 .438 .436 .419 62 38 43 33 55 42 49 58 47 32 55 43 32 57 47 46 31 47 68 37 Kuster, Centerre Bank John GangloH, Interco Jim Gangloff, Busch Diel, E.E.C.U.

Hawkins, KMOX Radio Bradlev, Sverdruo Inc. Haake, Brown Group Piper, KMOX Radio Allota, E.E.C.U. Bornhop, E.E.C.U. Sovich, Laclede Gas Monestar, Sverdrup Inc. Bunge, Maritz Inc.

Hanne, KMOX Radio Wrice, Sverdrup Inc. Shv, Maritz Inc. Wiemann. Brown Group Shaver, Busch Stegmann, Maritz Inc. Robinson, Busch 13 10 .406 23 10 .404 .404 .391 19 17 18 7 7 .387 .383 18 14 26 14 14 7 .382 .378 4 1 V.

i. V-. I ''V From page 4N though Luna maintains a guarded optimism, the players have shown a desire to do more than just show up and make a cameo appearance. "We have a talented team and we won't be satisfied with just going up there and winning a few games," Sandbothe said. "We want to go up there and place.

We get along real well, and we love playing together." "This is my first time going to nationals, and I want to win," Moore added. "I'm real excited and I think we have a good chance." Luna said: "They all have that competitive spirit. These are some of the best girls in the state of Missouri, and they are used to winning. But there are no big heads, and they are fun to coach." Luna is also taking his 16-, 15-, and 13-year-old Kutis teams to New Mexico for the nationals. The 16-and-under team features such Missouri Class 3A standouts as Visitation's Laura Mueller, Monica Steinhoff of Duchesne and Rosati-Kain center Molly McPherron.

Also qualifying for the AAU Nationals in Syracuse, N.Y., is the Pride of St. Louis, an 11-and-under girls team coached by Ray Scott and Bill Coon. During the first week of August, the boys 14-and-under team from St. Louis (the Jays) will travel to Seattle, for national competition. The Jays, coached by Ron Combs, are led by smooth-shooting freshman Scott High-mark from Parkway West and freshman muscleman Alfred Jones from Kirkwood.

RUNS BATTED IN Joe Kuster, Centerre Bank, 37; Greg King, Maritz 26; Jav Williamson, Busch, 23; Tonv Mueller, KMOX Radio, 21; Kevin Wrice, Sverdrup 17; Rob Traupmann, Laclede Gas, 17; John Gangloff, Interco 16; Mickev Piper, KMOX Radio, 15; Pat Matthews, Interco 15; Jim Gangloff, Busch, 14; Jim Shaver, Busch, 14; Tom Stegmann, Maritz 14; Curt Weisner, Busch, 14; Joel Sher, Busch, 14; Phil Kumnick, Busch, 14; Darin Basler, Interco 14; Don Kielv, KMOX Radio, 14; Michael Prince, Sverdrup 13. HOME RUNS Joe Kuster, Centerre Bank, Jav Williamson, Busch, Phil Kumnick, Busch, 6, Tim Hawkins, KMOX Radio, Mickev Piper, KMOX Radio, Rich Allota, E.E.C.U., 4, Rob Traupmann, Laclede Gas, Michael Prince, Sverdrup Kevin Wrice, Sverdrup Jim Shaver, Busch, Curi Weisner, Busch, Joel Sher, Busch, Tim Pinkowski, Laclede Gas, Tony Mueller, KMOX Radio, Greg King, Maritz Dan Kielv, KMOX Radio, Gene Tatham, Brown Group, John Viehmann, Brown Group, Greg Brummer, Centerre Bank, 3. SLUGGING AVERAGE Joe Kuster, Centerre Bank, 1.145, Tim Hawkins, KMOX Radio, .873, Phil Kumnick, Busch, .872, Aaron Ontiveros, E.E.C.U., Jav Williamson, Busch, 19 Jim Gangloff, Busch, Mickev Piper, KMOX Radio, John Gangloff, Interco Tim Pinkowski, Laclede Gas, .725, Rich Allota, E.E.C.U., Todd Bunge, Maritz Kevin Wrice, Sverdrup .701 John Born-hop, E.E.C.U., Jim Shaver, Busch, Dove Wiemann, Brown Group, Michael Prince, Sverdrup Dove Haake, Brown Group, .673. STOLEN BASbS Ron Lindsav, Centerre Bank, 22; Jerrv Norton, Centerre Bank, 10; Bill Bradley, Sverdrup Mike Miller, Interco Inc Jim Gangloff, Busch, 7, Darrvl Wither-spoon, Sverdrup Inc Joe Kuster, Centerre Bank, 6, Greg mg, Maritz 6, Keith Pin-kerton, Laclede Gas, 5, Rob Traupmann, Laclede Gas, 5. Post-Dispatch pnoto Karen Chalupny, shown during her senior long-range jumper this summer with an AAU year at Oakville High, will hope to can her team in the national tournament.

cews IHliffiseBf A Few EfracBes of fee Baseball Saints Get A Save In Tourney There was no need to play the National Anthem prior to the championship game of the 22nd annual Ballwin Invitational Softball Tournament. The players already had seen the dawn's early light. Rain during the first two days of the three-day event forced the 12 teams into a marathon session of 23 consecutive hours of softball. The single-elimination round began June 20 at 1 1 p.m. after a lengthy rain delay the second of the tournament.

The title game started at 9 p.m. the next night. In between there was no rest for the teams that advanced. "It was quite an experience," said Ballwin Saints coach Ed Martz, coordinator of the tournament "I won't forget it and I'm sure most of the players won't, either." Martz has seen his share of extra-inning games that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. But playing into the morning and straight through the next day was indeed different.

After working for more than three hours to get the rain-soaked field ready, his players went out and won a pair of 1-0 contests. One began at 1:30 a.m. Sunday. The next started at 4:30 a.m. By the time the morning rolled around, the Ballwin players were bushed.

The combination of ground work and early morning softball took it toll, as the Saints were quickly eliminated. But their diligent work to get the field ready and keep the tournament going was greatly appreciated, especially by the eight out-of-town teams entered. "Midway, though, we changed our goals a little bit" Martz said. "At first we wanted to win the tournament. After the rain the second day, I told the girl our goal was just to save the tournament." The Ballwin Tournament is traditionally one of the strongest in the Midwest Not only does it attract top teams, but it is also run in top-notch fashion, as proven by Martz and his players.

The Rockettes, from Decatur, 111., won the tournament by beating the and Express of Kansas City 2-0 In the title game. The Rockettes are led by former St. Louis Hummers pitcher Debbie Reznaczek. They finished fifth in the national tournament last summer. The Affton Flames led four area entries by finishing in a tie for third place.

Affton took the Rockettes to 13 innings before falling 4-3 in a semifinal game. The Saints finished sixth. The Manchester Reds II and Wood River Royals also participated. As usual the tournament was a success. But there were times when Martz had his doubts.

Heavy rains Friday night postponed all but one game. The teams began play early Saturday morning and got several contests in before late afternoon showers halted play again. The Saints players and their parents started working on the field immediately after the rain stopped. They had it ready in a matter of hours. At 1 1 p.m., play resumed for good.

"A lot of people couldn't believe we got it in," Martz noted. Martz said the players didn't mind the round-the-clock schedule. The fans enjoyed it as well. "There were about 100 people at the morning games," Martz said. Some of the out-of-town clubs were able to sneak back to their hotels for a few hours sleep.

But for the Saints, there was no time to rest. "The 13 girls on my team really dedicated themselves to making this work." Martz said. "Their play on the field suffered a little, but that wasn't the point "We wanted to get everything in and make sure everybody got to play." he added. "After all, that's what they came here for." Martz" club still stands in first place in the Women Open Softball League. The Saints have only one league loss.

Affton is in second with two league losses The 11 team loop had been divided into two divisions in the past This year, all 1 1 clubs are in one division with the top four making the postseason playoffs. Although the league is primarily a senior or college-age league, there are lo 18-and-under teams competing the Manchester Reus II and the Affton Angels. After the slow start. Coffee came on with seven hits in bis last 13 trips for a .292 average. Still, he entered this year without a set spot.

"I've always had to prove myself, but it's never been anything against anyone," Coffee said. "Basically, I don't have a baseball reputation for anyone to go on, so how can I get mad when someone tells me I'm not good enough? It just makes me work that much harder. Heck, I really didn't know myself if I'd ever be good enough to play at UMSL "First I had to prove it to myself and then go about proving it to others." After getting his chance midway through this season. Coffee proved himself a valuable member of the Rivermen squad. Still, he knows there are no guarantees.

"I'm probably as established right now at UMSL as anybody can be, but I know I can't afford to let up," Coffee said. "With the junior college guys and the high school players coming in, there's always stiff competition. You always have to be ready to work for your spot in the lineup." Nothing in life is easy and anything is possible if you work hard enough at it. And Mike Coffee knows it only too well. everyone I belonged." But Coffee never quit trying.

He continued his work at the batting cages and finally hooked on with the St. Charles Spartans of the East Missouri Baseball Association, an amateur league based in St. Charles. "Playing for the Spartans was a real key, because I was able to play ball and have some success," said Coffee, who now plays for the Mariners of the EMBA as well as the KMOX Radio team of the Metro Collegians Instructional Baseball League. "I played about half the games and managed to get some hits.

Maybe if I gone 0 for 20 or something I would've quit trying, but I had enough success to prove to myself that I was getting better." Coffee tried out for UMSL in the fall of 1983 but didn't exactly impress then-coach Jim Dix. "Coach Dix just told me that he couldn't see me ever being good enough to play at UMSL," said Coffee, who again beat the odds. "I had another good year in the EMBA and tried out again the next year." This time he made it "I've probably improved as much as anyone possibly could over the last few years," said Coffee, who stands 6 feet 1 and weights 180 pounds. "Every year, it seemed like I was twice as good as the last. It just goes to show his high school baseball team as a senior at Fort Zumwalt High in O'Fal-lon, Mo.

"Honestly, I wasn't very good back then," said Coffee, an outfielder-first baseman. "I had potential, I guess, but I really didn't have a lot of ability. "I bad to make myself into a player." Coffee played baseball for about five years in little league, but then dropped the game for other interests. He played soccer and hockey, but was most successful in where he twice won U.S. Kids Wrestling Federation titles.

He also wrestled four years at Fort Zuwmalt In 1982, Coffee returned to baseball after watching the Cardinals win the World Series. "I'd watched baseball all my life, but all of a sudden I was really turned on to the game again," he recalled. "Within a week or two, I was out at the batting cages. "I hit the ball well, a lot better than I expected." After countless hours of work in the batting cages. Coffee tried out for but failed to make the Fort Zuwmalt baseball team.

He then failed In a tryout with the St. Peters American Legion team that summer. "I really didn't do that well at either of the tryouts," he said. "I think I was trying too hard, trying to show what hard work can do." Impressed by Coffee's willingness to work, Dix began to work with the youngster. "I really owe an awful lot to Jim Dix," said Coffee, a natural right-handed hitter who now hits lefthand-ed.

"He's an incredible hitting instructor, and he passed along a lot of it to me. Every time he spotted me doing something wrong, he gave me a drill or exercise to correct it." Through his work with Dix, Coffee has become his own hitting instructor. And a very good one at that. "It's nice to have someone point out your problems, but in the end you've to be able to correct yourself," said Coffee, a business management major who may someday get into coaching. "My personal philosophy isn't all that complicated.

I just try to see the ball, hit it hard and then hope for the best." After getting two hits in just three at-bats in 1985 as a freshman, Coffee became a top pinch-hitter as a sophomore under new coach Jim Brady, an assistant under Dix. "I started 0 for 11 under Brady, but I hit the ball hard most of the time," Coffee recalled. "He kept putting me out there and I started to come through." Miracles can happen. Just ask University of Missouri-St Louis outfielder Mike Coffee. "If somebody would've told me five years ago that I'd someday lead the (Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association) in hitting, I would've had to say they were crazy," said Coffee, who did just that this season at UMSL "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think all this was possible.

I'll tell you, it's all happened pretty quickly." Coffee's batting title is just the latest in a series of unlikely success stories for the senior-to-be. "My philosophy has always been that nothing in life comes easy and that anything is possible if you work hard enough," said Coffee, 22. "The batting title was a great thrill, but it came about from all the work I've done. I don't know anyone who worked any harder than I have over the last few years. "And now, all those long hours are paying off." After starting the season on the bench at UMSL, Coffee came on to hit .422 with four homers and 18 runs batted in.

All this, incredibly, from a young man who wasn't good enough to make Mitchell Anxious For Court Return Basketball Pate's offensive philosophy always has been up-tempo basketball. That's Mitchell's forte. "She's a real quick point guard, with good floor vision, and she's a good leader," said Pate. "In high school, there were times when she would go out and do her own thing. She'll probably be more team-oriented here, but I don't want her to lose those individual skills she has because there will be times when we'll need for her to stand out "I know she'll help us a lot on the court but she'U also bring a lot of maturity and leadership to program off the court, too." Baptist "I was about to come home anyway." Mitchell said.

"I had promised my sister I'd go back to school." Mitchell said she is enthusiastic about returning to school. She plans to major in physical education. "I want to to be a coach someday." said Mitchell, who this summer is helping coach a 15-and-under girls team. Pate has no doubts that Mitchell will be a factor for Missouri Baptist in the 1987-88 season. "I think she'U be real comfortable with me because she knows my training schedule, and we were successful in high school when she was with me," said Pate." "Not just for basketball, but school-work and other things, too." Pate doesn't lose track of her former players.

She knew that Mitchell had suffered the misfortune of an injury. But Pate also knew that mental toughness would help bring Mitchell back. "I haven't worried about her, because the catalyst is she has something to prove to herself." Pate said. "Not only in basketball but also in the classroom. She's in the third session of summer school here and she's aced six of the seven tests that she's taken.

I can see a stronger and more mature person than two years ago. "Any adjustment she'll have to make will be more mental, as far as her confidence is concerned. I know she still might be a bit timid about zig-zag running and cutting." After her knee injury, Mitchell finished the fall semester at Trenton and then came home. She later enrolled at Florissant Valley Community College, but she soon dropped out Mitchell then moved to Houston. Texas, to live with her sister.

Mitchell was working at a Target Store in Houston when she received a call in March from Vincent Bingham, the assistant athlete director at Missouri playing in the "Old Ladies League" at Visitation Academy. In the fall, she'U get a second-chance start at Missouri Baptist College. "I'm excited, real excited," Mitchell said. "I can't wait to start This is my chance." In her first summer-league game at Visitation, Mitchell appeared tentative at the start But then she got into the flow of the game and flashes of the past appeared. Mitchell made penetrating moves to the basket she 'buried a few outside jumpers, and she darted into the passing lanes to steal a couple of passes.

"I'd say I'm about 75 percent back now," Mitchell said. "I felt real slow on defense, I kept getting beat I know I need a lot of work. I ll have to do a lot of running. "(Style) doesn't have to change, rm still going to drive, and I'm going to work on my outside shot because I want to shoot the 3-pointer." Mitchell's fresh start coincides with the formation of Missouri Baptist's women's basketball program. The team will be coached by Mitchell's high school coach, Jean Pate.

"That'll be UKe because she's always looked out for the people that have played for her," Mitchell said. By Art Thompson III Of ttx Post-Dispatch Staff Two years ago, Sonja Mitchell was one of the St Louis area's premier basketball players. She averaged 17.5 points, four steals and 2.4 assists in her senior year at Normandy High. Mitchell, a 5-foot 4 point guard, was the consummate backcourt player. She had shifty moves, a deadly jump shot, quick hands and court awareness.

Mitchell entered Trenton Junior College in the fall of 1985 for the first stop of what she hoped would be a successful collegiate career. But Mitchell hasn't been able to fulfill that promise. In her first intras-quad scrimmage, she suffered a torn ligament in her left knee, which required surgery. Two years later. Mitchell still has not played in a college basketball game.

"It really set me back because I had never really been injured before." said Mitchell. "Then the first real injury I get boom, an operation." But this summer. Mitchell is making a comeback, with the hopes that the surgeon's sharp scalpel has not dulled her court dreams. Mitchell is Check the Post Dispatch's Businessthe Economy section each day for the closing market results and the latest financial facts and figures. To begm home delivery d.a! 622-71 11 or toll-free 1-800 231-1991.


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