News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 19, 2011

FROM THE PRESS BOX: No debate about quality of Vigo baseball


The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — It’s standard practice for losing high school coaches — especially coaches who led teams on a deep postseason run — to heap praise on their seniors one last time. It’s even more so when one of those seniors was the rock of a given team for a four-year period.

And so it was last Saturday when Terre Haute South fell to Indianapolis Cathedral in a tight 1-0 semistate loss at Plainfield. I covered the game, and inevitably, I asked South coach Kyle Kraemer about standout senior pitcher/first baseman A.J. Reed, who played his last game in a Braves’ uniform after a sterling career.

“He’s got to be the best player to ever play in Vigo County …” Kraemer said.

It threw me for a little bit of a loop when he said it. Not because what he said was hyperbole, because Reed is an outstanding baseball player, but because there were immediately other candidates that flashed in my mind.

And that’s pretty incredible. I’m no grizzled long-time Hautean. I haven’t been in Vigo County very long to have other “greatest” candidates flashing through my head, especially with Reed setting the bar as amazingly high as he did.

My first baseball season in Terre Haute was 2005. Obviously, there’s far more Vigo players of yore I haven’t seen than I’ve seen. Given that, The Best Player In Vigo County History argument is not one that I’m going to try and settle here. No way.

And I’m sure as heck not going to argue with Kraemer. In terms of his devastating double-whammy pitching and batting prowess, Reed is the best I’ve seen, Vigo County or otherwise. Reed finished his senior year with a .585 batting average, 16 home runs and 48 RBI, with teams pitching around him as a matter of course. On the mound, Reed was 8-1 with a 1.06 ERA and 108 strikeouts.

Reed was drafted in the 25th round by the New York Mets on June 7 and is undecided whether he’ll sign or play baseball at the University of Kentucky.

Outstanding … right?

Yet it’s a testament to the strength of Vigo County baseball, then, that even in a short period of time I’ve been around, the other two Vigo high schools can present legitimate candidates of their own.

You never forget the first elite player when you come to a new area and Terre Haute North’s Josh Phegley is that player for me.

In 2006, he hit .592 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI and was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball. Phegley also pitched when he wasn’t catching, and though he wasn’t in Reed’s class on the hill, he was no slouch.

Like Reed, Phegley was the leader of a semistate team that lost a close game to Indianapolis Cathedral. He was not drafted out of high school because he had earned a rare full-ride baseball scholarship to Indiana.

After his Hoosiers’ career was over, he was drafted in the sandwich round (between the first and second rounds) by the Chicago White Sox in 2009. He’s currently playing at the Double-A level at Birmingham.

Like Reed and Phegley, West Vigo catcher Jeremy Lucas was the bedrock of a 2009 Vikings team that advanced to the 3A state championship game. Lucas hit .490 and set a Vikings’ record with 49 hits that season. He wasn’t quite in Reed or Phegley’s class in terms of power, but the eight home runs he had in 2009 is excellent by normal standards for high school baseball. Lucas also had 46 RBI.

Lucas’ senior year numbers aren’t quite there with Reed or Phegley’s, but he helped lead his team one step further in the postseason, and at a very important position to boot. And for those who say it was 3A, I would submit that the difference between 4A and 3A is negligible in baseball, especially once you get past the sectional level (and West Vigo’s sectional is rarely a walk in the park).

Lucas was drafted in the 35th round in 2009 by the Baltimore Orioles, but elected to go to Indiana State. He will be a junior for the Sycamores next season.

Keep in mind, that trio is just the elite of the elite Braves, Patriots and Vikings’ candidates since 2005. The talent level goes oh so much deeper.

The excellence continues with players like North’s Nick Ciolli, Joe Meggs, Skyler Pearson, Michael Eberle, Parker Fulkerson, Brandon Dorsett and the late Jordan Shaw-Tyler. Or South’s Jacob Hayes, Koby Kraemer and Cole Vicars. Or West Vigo’s Jordan Pearson and Tyler Wampler — both ex-Vikings probably the closest to Reed since 2005 in the hitting-pitching combo department — with Cameron Fagg and Scott West.

All of the aforementioned Vigo baseball alumni play or played Division I baseball, or would have played in Shaw-Tyler’s case, at some point in their post-high school careers. (Apologies if I left a Division I name or two out. There’s so many players who have excelled since 2005, it’s hard to keep track of them all.)

My point in reeling off these names isn’t necessarily to ballyhoo any one player’s ability against another. It’s to point out how unbelievably good baseball is in Vigo County, even using a very small seven-season sample size.

 There are other counties around the state, most of them in fact, that would kill for that level of talent over a 25-year (or more) period. Factor in the counties adjacent to Vigo County (former Northview star Brady Shoemaker only misses the elite list above by dint of geography) and the talent pool deepens.

Finally, imagine all of the pre-2005 names I didn’t list because I wasn’t here to see them. The names in the debate many of you can have would be so much deeper than mine.

But I’m not here to debate, I just want to celebrate. There is no question in my mind that baseball is the best-played sport in Vigo County. I would put Terre Haute up against any other Indiana locale as the best baseball city in the state.

Who’s better? Who’s best?

Who cares? I’m just glad I get a chance to appreciate it.

Thanks for the well-wishes — I don’t like to advertise my aches and pains — everyone has their own problems in life and mine sure as heck aren’t any more important than anyone else’s just because I have a newspaper column — but I would like to publicly thank all of those who wished me well after my recent heart catheterization.

I had it last Wednesday, and so far, I received very positive news. I will be back to full strength very soon, so I plan to cover Indiana State (unfortunately, I was recovering when the football and basketball teams made moves late last week) and all other aspects of the area sports scene per usual.

Again, thanks to all of those who had well-wishes. They are always appreciated.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Please check out Golden’s Down In The Valley blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.