Tournaments | Story | 6/8/2019

Sparking a family environment

Annika Wall        
Photo: AJ McEneany (Perfect Game)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – For the Cangelosi Sparks of Lockport, Ill., baseball is more than just a sport. It’s an opportunity to create an elite, competitive, friendly environment. Three years ago, the Illinois Sparks and the Cangelosi BlackSox merged with the goal of creating a team that could compete nationwide. Now, their two teams are seeded first and fifth at the inaugural Perfect Game 14u Midwest Invitational, held at the brand-new Prospect Meadows Sports Complex in Marion.

“The program has evolved,” Rob Randick, one of Cangelosi’s 14u head coaches, said. “It’s geared toward getting athletes to the next level, and we’ve seen a lot of success, way more than I could have imagined. I think we had four major league draft picks this past week and everyone’s excited for them. It’s a team and family organization.”

For Brian Guzek’s team, though, family has a unique meaning. It’s not very often you see a set of triplets hit the field together, but Michael, Josh and Zach Polubinski do do just that on a daily basis. Michael serves as the team’s center fielder, Zach as a first baseman or pitcher and Josh serving as a utility player, able to pitch and play both the infield and outfield.

Additionally, Guzek has had the opportunity to coach all three of his sons. Jack, the oldest, will pitch for the University of Iowa next season. Ben, the middle child, plays on the Sparks’ 16u team, while Trent, the youngest currently plays under his dad.

“It’s great and it’s difficult, though, in the same breath,” Brian said about coaching his children. “You got to look at it not from just one point of view as most parents do. I have to look at it from all 12 kids, so it’s not as easy as many think.”

Overall, the blood ties have strengthened Guzek’s team as a whole. As a unit, the Polubinski triplets batted .533 in pool play, highlighted by Josh’s stellar extra-base hits. The 6-foot-1, 150-pound shortstop drove in three runs off a double and triple in the team’s first game of the day. To add on, Guzek’s son Trent batted 3-for-4 and scored three runs in two games.

According to the coaches, the program’s success can be traced back to having the opportunity to train at the Bo Jackson Elite Sports Dome. This training facility allows the Sparks to train year-round.  

“Being in the Midwest, we don’t get the luxury of the weather that the South does,” Randick said. “Being at the Bo Jackson Elite Sports Dome, being indoors, gets these kids an opportunity to compete with the kids down South and get the opportunity to go do a bigger, Division I school so they can compete year-round.”

Additionally, the coaches don’t only focus on the swing of the bat. For Coach Guzek, it’s about developing an all-encompassing competitive attitude among the athletes.

“You’re trying to win every game you play; I don’t care if it’s a Tuesday night game or a Saturday game,” Guzek said. “They have to have that attitude. When they lace up their shoes to play pickup basketball, they need to try and win. That’s what we’re trying to get our athletes to do. If we go out and do the little things right, meaning if we play good defense, throw strikes, the wins and losses happen if we do those things right.

“As you get older in baseball, it gets harder to play. In travel baseball, you play. As you get older, it gets harder. Your freshman year there might be 30 kids on the team and only nine play. When you get to be a junior in high school, there’s no JV. You have to make the lineup. The thing we, our premise is that you constantly have to do things right in order to get better and that’s what our kids truly try to do.”

Guzek’s team clinched the top seed of the PG 14u Midwest Invitational and will face the winner of Iowa Select and Randick’s Cangelosi Sparks team.

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