Tournaments | Story | 6/28/2019

Hit Dogs have hit parade

Jack Nelson        
Photo: Hudson Davenport (Perfect Game)

HOOVER, Ala. – Hosting the SEC tournament each May, the Hoover Met has become the Mecca of Southeast college baseball. But on Friday, it was the Michigan based Motor City Hit Dogs that stole the show, as they opened pool play of the WWBA 14u National Championship with a loud 10-0 triumph over the Hoover Ridiculous.

Fresh off the University of Michigan’s impressive run to the College World Series Finals, Motor City’s win reflects a larger trend in the national baseball landscape. Michigan baseball is legit, and it is here to stay.

“It’s great for any Midwest team to make it that far,” said coach Len Grimmer. “A lot of these kids live close to Ann Arbor, so when they see the success the college guys are having in the cold weather and how they are working hard indoors, I think it gives them some inspiration that they can do that too. The University of Michigan is really turning the state around as far as baseball goes.”

“It was cool to watch Michigan have so much success,” said Hudson Davenport. “It would be really special to do something like that one day. We want to be like them.”

While the Wolverines fell just short of a national championship, the Motor City boys have a good chance to capture one this week in Hoover. They wasted no time in asserting their presence, as Davenport belted a triple in the bottom of the first inning to score two. In the third, Tyler Stepek laced a triple of his own that tacked on a pair of runs. The scoring culminated in a three run fifth that was the product of a Prestyn Carter bases clearing double to push the lead to 10 and enact the mercy rule.

Motor City received solid pitching of Parker Brzustewicz, who worked 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball. He struck out four, scattered three hits, and was an impressive 70 percent strikes.

The center of the American automobile industry, Detroit is a city that knows how to build. The Motor City is the birthplace of GM, Chrysler, and Ford. You have to add the Hit Dogs to the list of well-oiled machines forged in Motown.

“We start them young, around seven years old,” said Grimmer. “So these guys have been playing together for quite some time. Mostly Michigan guys, although there are a couple from Ohio. The organization has been around for 15 years, and now its really rolling. The kids buy in to what we teach and what we’re trying to do.”

Player development in northern climates can be tricky. It takes a lot of creativity and dedication to properly prepare for the season that lies ahead. There are also more distractions. Kids can go play hockey or basketball. They could even take up skiing or snowboarding. But for those that stay the path, this environment develops hungry, tough, and coachable players that college coaches and pro teams are increasingly looking for.

“So many of these kids do a lot their work individually because they have to,” said Grimmer. “The weather makes it tough to get outside as a team, so we are forced to do a lot indoors. We get in the cages a couple times a week, and a local high school has a nice facility we can use. But I give a lot of credit to the parents, who support these kids so much every step of the way.”

During the broadcast of the College World Series, broadcaster Karl Ravech repeatedly told the story of how Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin looks for recruits of high character. How a player supports his teammates and displays common courtesy are equally as important as throwing 95 mph. That is why the Hit Dogs focus on teaching their boys life skills from a very young age.

“We trying to teach them to be good men,” said Grimmer. “We want them to respect the game, respect the umpires, respect the other team. And then just go out there and play as hard as you can. I tell them that if you do all these things, everything has a way of working out for you.”

The proof is in the pudding for the Hit Dogs. Alumni of the program include 2015 first round pick Nick Plummer and 2019 second round pick Karl Kaufman, a former Perfect Game All American and star of Michigan’s run to Omaha this year. In total, they have had seven players drafted and more than 120 college commits. And Motor City sends their kids to top institutions, too. Both 2019 high school grads, Colin Czajkowski will play at Michigan and Jon Campbell will head east to Boston College. The success speaks to the strength of the Motor City model, but also to the overall talent there is in the state as a whole.

“There’s great competition in Michigan,” said Davenport. “We play really good teams up there, so when we come down here it’s honestly not a huge difference. We are very well prepared to win, and we expect to have a good tournament.”

Raised in a blue-collar city and hardened by the seasons, this Hit Dogs team has impressive talent in Davenport, Stepek, and first basement Blake Grimmer. There is also no shortage of confidence, as the boys are here to do some damage.

“We’re here to win the national championship,” said Stepek. “And we believe we can do it.”

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