All-Stars enjoy Classic experience

John F. Kennedy’s Joe Millard and Western Reserve’s Jeep DiCioccio both had the opportunity to play for their respective high school coaches in Friday’s High School Valley All-Star Classic at Eastwood Field. Millard hit a game-tying groundball in the early going, while DiCioccio scored a run in the top of the seventh inning.

And while DiCioccio will resume his playing career at Mount Union next season, Millard will not have that same opportunity. Despite that, Millard did not dwell on that fact, but rather, embraced the moment.

“It feels good and it’s special to play with a whole bunch of guys who are just absolutely amazing for their team,” Millard said. “(I’m) just gonna come out and have fun.”

For Millard, 2017 was a lot of fun, as his Eagles won a district championship in coach Don Lee’s final season at the helm.

Millard, meanwhile, continued to excel in left field, while also pitching from time to time. While Millard says he tailed off in the latter portion of his senior season, his exceptional play in the outfield led him to earning Lee’s Defensive Player of the Year award on the Eagles baseball team.

“He could come in from left field and finish a game for me. He made some good catches in the outfield, but I can’t single out just one or two that he made,” Lee said. “But if the ball was hit to left field, I wasn’t worried about it being caught. If he could get to it, he was gonna catch it.”

However, Millard’s greatest accomplishment may be his hitting. Millard admits that he struggled as an offensive player back in his freshman year, but with the help of Lee, Millard was able to come a long way in his career.

Going out in style with a district championship was certainly a good way for Millard to show his gratitude toward Lee, especially with Lee’s recent retirement from the game.

“Coach Lee means a lot to me,” Millard said. “He stuck with me freshman year, all the way to senior year–absolutely great coach, and I love playing for him.”

While Millard honed his glovework throughout his career, DiCioccio was always a natural at the plate.

DiCioccio batted around .400 as a senior, as his Blue Devils won another district title, before losing in a regional semifinal in Lorain — JFK lost in the other semifinal game. Along the way, DiCioccio had nine doubles and four triples and, according to coach Ed Anthony, was the team’s main power hitter, especially during the team’s postseason run.

However, Anthony believes DiCioccio’s intangibles were his biggest contribution to the team his senior year.

“His leadership quality this year, that’s why he’s a team captain,” Anthony said.

“He really stepped up this year, he was more a leader as far as in the clubhouse and on the field this year. That was the No. 1 thing, as opposed to last year when he was a junior. This year he knew he was a senior and he had to carry it. He’s got desire, the kid sets goals for himself and he works hard to obtain them.”

That hard work has not only led to a successful career in every facet of the game, but has also led him to an opportunity to play baseball in college. The Mount Union-bound product will look to bring his hitting and leadership to the NCAA Division III level, but he knows it won’t be easy.

“Adjust to the college game itself for sure,” DiCioccio said. “It’s a different game from what everyone had told me. Your schedule, keep my grades up — that’s the No. 1 priority. Stuff like that and adjusting to the pitching.”

DiCioccio said that his passion for the game is a lifelong one, as he began playing at around age 3. He points to his dad as the major figure that sparked his love for baseball, and Jeep himself admits that he used to study film of World Series games as a youngster, as opposed to “watching kids shows.”

And if DiCioccio has his way, the full potential of his game will reach that of a Major League all-star and his favorite player. “Josh Donaldson,” DiCioccio said. “His attitude, I like his flair that he plays with, he comes to play every game and there’s not a lot of guys who can say they actually do that. That’s who I want to be like.”