Twenty years later, lessons still learned from Andrew state champion baseball team032509/ studio
Pat Disabato sports writer southtownstar ( photo by Carol Dorsett)
Updated: May 17, 2012 12:16AM
On Saturday, Andrew will recognize the 20-year anniversary of its 1992 Class AA state championship baseball team before its 11 a.m. home game against Brother Rice.
Members of the ’92 team will be treated to a postgame barbecue. There are also some surprises lined up, though I’m not at liberty to divulge them.
“They were a phenomenal team,” said Andrew coach and alum Dave DeHaan, who graduated in 1991 and missed out on the historic season. “We know for sure 10 guys are coming. We’d like as many of them as possible to make it out,”
It seems like yesterday the Thunderbolts team blasted its way to the state championship.
It was an amazing team. Andrew finished 33-5 and took a wrecking ball to the competition at the state finals, then held in Springfield: 14-3 vs. Harlan, 12-8 vs. Lockport and 12-1 vs. Belleville West in the championship.
How good was Andrew? It sandwiched two summer league state titles around the ’92 spring championship.
There was some serious talent on that squad. Guys such as catcher Jason Imrisek, who went on to play college ball at Evansville; pitcher A.J. Jones, who starred at Notre Dame; and pitcher/infielder Zack Pringle, who played at Arizona.
There also was a kid by the name of Ben Kotwica, who went on to captain Army’s winningest football team and earn the Bronze Star, among other honors. He’s now an assistant coach with the New York Jets.
Those kids were the stars of the team, the headline makers.
But it’s unlikely Andrew earns that state championship without second baseman Tom Snyder, who was 8-for-11 in the three games downstate — including a 4-for-4 effort against Lockport — and earned MVP honors.
And while the state finals were a memorable experience for Snyder, it was a game leading up the finals he remembers most.
“I have so many memories of that season,” said Snyder, now 36 and an Orland Park resident. “But that Sandburg game in the sectional final, when we won 9-8 in extra innings, was unbelievable. I can still remember every out.”
That’s when the Andrew-Sandburg rivalry had some serious teeth, a genuine dislike among the players, fans and coaches. Andrew led 8-5 entering the seventh inning when Sandburg’s Doug Murray belted a three-run homer with two outs to force extra innings.
When Murray’s homer landed, tying the game at 8, I swear the ground around Sandburg’s jam-packed ballpark began to shake.
That win punched Andrew’s ticket to state.
“I remember being with the guys on the bus trip to state, just the excitement and happiness,” said Snyder, who works in hospital administration. “The bus trip back home, when the Tinley Park fire trucks met us at the exit on I-80 and took us to Andrew ... There were like 300 kids at the school for a pep assembly for us on a Sunday. Just the joy everyone had.”
Cherished memories, for certain. But if not for a critical decision Snyder made his freshman year, he never would have had those incredible experiences.
Snyder was cut from the freshman team at Andrew. However, then-freshman coach Roy Bullard, now a varsity assistant at Andrew, asked Snyder if he wanted to be an alternate on the squad.
“There was something that made me think I should give Tom a second chance,” Bullard recalled. “He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t have a big arm. But he had a great attitude, work ethic and, I thought at the time, he had an opportunity to become a starter at some point.
“That was the difference between being an alternate and getting cut. The kids who were cut had no chance of ever developing into a starter. An alternate, in my view, had a chance to start at some point.”
Snyder remembers going home and talking with his parents about whether to accept the spot.
“When you hear the words ‘You’re cut’ as a kid, you’re devastated,” Snyder said. “My dad was coaching a Pony League team and I could have just played for him. But my dad told me if I feel that I have the skills to play at Andrew, I should show them by being an alternate on the practice field. I called coach Bullard that night and told him I’d be an alternate.”
By the midway point of his freshman year, Snyder was starting. Three years later, he was MVP of the state finals.
It’s a valuable lesson for any kid who has been cut from a team: don’t give up. You never know what lies ahead in life.