Teens playing for the love of the game

It’s just a few weeks away from the spear-throwing and cannon-blasting madness of a Friday night football game at Mollenkopf Stadium.

The festivities are much more subdued across the parking lot at Volunteer Field – home of the Warren G. Harding baseball program.

“That’d be cool, though,” said Adam Butler, a rising junior and second baseman for the Raiders. “But we’ll let the football team keep the those traditions.”

Obviously, there’s no marching band, long lines for cavatelli or spirits of Maurice Clarett, Mario Manningham and LeShun Daniels running through fans’ minds. Still, there’s no need for the Harding baseball team to be pushed to the side or forgotten completely.

But to them, it doesn’t even matter.

“We’re just playing our game,” Butler said. “We’re not worrying about what everyone else thinks.”

Let’s face it, baseball isn’t the most popular thing in a city fueled by football and basketball. Even in the spring, it likely plays second fiddle to the recent success of Raider track.

A 20-3 loss to Boardman, with nine errors, ended the season in a sectional final and further added to the melancholy attitude toward hardball on Elm Road.

However, a group of Warren youngsters are out to give Trumbull County something to cheer about. They’re not doing it for the attention or just for something to do to pass the time. They’re doing it for the love of the game.

Recently, the Warren Athletic Club’s 15- to 17-year-old team in the summer Babe Ruth League captured its second-straight title. The boys went 19-1 during the regular season and beat Carbone Plumbing, 9-4, to win it all this year.

“We were the favorite going into it,” said Tyler Longwell, who also will be a junior at Harding in the fall. “We just took it one game at a time. It helped towards our leadership skills. We have a nice base to branch off of to motivate the team for a while.”

Baseball is the only organized sport Longwell has ever played. He began with tee-ball when he was 5 and has always been fixated on the game. He’s a regular at Eastwood Field for Mahoning Valley Scrappers games, though he’s not a normal 16-year old. Longwell pays attention to the action, doesn’t run to the concession stand every 10 minutes and actually can scout talent.

Butler has a natural enthusiasm for the game, too. His mom signed him up when he was 5 for a league at Burbank Park. Lettering as a sophomore in 2013 was “the best feeling in the world,” he says.

“Getting that achievement really pumped me up for playing this summer,” Butler added. “We had great team chemistry. We were really excited all the time in the dugout. There was never a dull moment.”

The Harding program is looking to play fall ball to continue its summer success.

“We might get more notoriety,” said Longwell, a pitcher and catcher. “I’d like us to. We worked pretty hard to get to this point and we’ll work even harder to be an even better team.”

Butler is living at the batting cage, this summer, and loving every minute of it.

“I’ve never really loved anything more,” he said. “Baseball is my home away from home.”

Yes, that’s possible in a town built on pigskin pride.

Other members of the Warren 15-17 team included Doug Painter, Ethan Wright, Jake Mikesell, Tyler Gadzaiski, Tyler Jackson, Jordan Snowden, Marcus Masters and Paizon Putnam. The team was coached by Chuck Snowden, Scott Masters and Doug Painter.