Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Midland promotes values, tradition

Jeff Dahn        

There is quite a story behind the creation of one of the oldest and most-storied amateur youth baseball travel-team organizations in the country.

It all started on a sleepy summer day in Cincinnati, Ohio, when a young father returned home from a long business trip and went with his wife to watch their sons play knothole baseball. Not at all pleased with what he saw, the young father decided to take over as the team’s coach.

Or so the story goes. At least that’s the way it was told by Brian Hiler, the business manager of Midland Baseball, which is still based in Cincinnati.

Midland Baseball was founded in 1958 by “Papa” Joe Hayden when he took over as coach of his two young sons’ knothole baseball team. Hayden’s college roommate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, was legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, so it can rightly be assumed Hayden possessed a bit of a competitive streak.

Over the next several years, Hayden built his sons’ knothole team, known as the Braves, into the best in Cincinnati. The Braves won several city championships, according to a historical account on Midland Baseball’s website, and the program continued to grow in prestige when the players reached high school age.

This past summer, Midland Baseball fielded three of the best high school-age travel teams in the country and 14 teams in 10 age groups overall.

“It basically morphed into what it is today,” Hiler said. “The biggest thing is, Midland baseball is more about family, religion, tradition and values than it is about baseball. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Midland Baseball fields teams for 8-year-olds all the way up to 18-year-olds, but the 8- through 15-year-old teams only play locally in Cincinnati.

“We try to give back to this community and we try to teach the kids in Cincinnati the game of baseball in the hopes that they will filter up into the select teams,” Hiler said of the younger teams. “The 16-, 17- and 18-year-old teams are, quote-unquote, what you would consider our national teams.”

Those are the teams that travel the country to participate in Perfect Game events and other big tournaments. Midland Baseball has just one team in each of the high school age-groups (16U, 17U and 18U). The 16U team is the Braves, the 17U team is the Indians (they won their second straight CABA World Series in Charleston, S.C., this summer) and the 18U team is the Redskins.

“It’s not like we age discriminate here,” Hiler said with a chuckle. “If you’re a good 16-year-old and you can play on the 18-year-old level, you’re going to be on the 18-year-old level.”

The Redskins – named in honor of Hayden’s beloved Miami University, which has since changed its nickname to the RedHawks – won their second straight Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M., the second week of August, beating the Texas DBAT Mustangs in the championship game. They were ranked No. 3 in Perfect Game’s final 18U travel team national rankings.

Redskins pitcher Dillon Howard, Perfect Game’s No. 5 top national prospect in the high school class of 2011, was named the Most Valuable Player at the CMWS, and was joined on the all-tournament team by designated hitter Cody Geyer, shortstop Alexander Chittenden, utility man Conrad Gregor, and outfielders Marcus Davis and Mason Williams.

Geyer earned the Big Stick award and Matt Reida the Golden Glove award.

Midland Baseball has its own stadium in Clermont County, Ohio, called Midland Field that features a professionally maintained playing field designed after the one in Farmington, N.M.

The Redskins won their first Connie Mack World Series in 1984.

 “(Farmington is) our home away from home, man,” Hiler said. “We love it out there.”

Hiler also values Midland Baseball’s association with Perfect Game USA. The Redskins will once again participate in the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 21-25.

“Perfect Game is great because it gives us feedback about our kids and lets our kids know where they’re at on a national stage,” he said. “The biggest thing is they are just perfectionists and they know how to run a tournament. I don’t care if it’s 200 teams or 20 teams, they’re always good. The best teams in the country always play in Perfect Game events.”

 Midland Baseball prides itself on the host-family structure it has put in place for its players who come from outside of the Cincinnati area to play for the summer. When those kids arrive, they are assigned to host families that readily open their arms to the youngsters.

“I know other teams have host families too, but ours is like the (collegiate) Cape Cod League,” Hiler said. “I mean, these people shut down their summers to basically help these kids with laundry and cooking for them and transportation and everything else.”

The goal of Midland Baseball is get the players on its national teams exposed to and recognized by college coaches and Major League scouts. The organization puts the high school players in an environment similar to what they will encounter in a collegiate program.

“Winning is going to be the by-product of having good players,” Hiler said. “We don’t do a whole lot of yelling and screaming. We’re not just an all-star team that we’re going to bring all these kids in and, hey, let’s go play games. We practice every day and we have a regimen every day.

“It gives the kids a chance to understand what a college and a professional season is going to be like,” he continued. “We feel like if you haven’t taught them in practice and prepared them in practice for the game, what’s the use in yelling and screaming.”

Dozens of players have passed through Midland Baseball on their way to professional baseball careers. In the early years, several pitchers who went on to pitch in the Major Leagues played on the program's national teams, including Charlie Leibrandt, Rich Dotson and Roger McDowell.

In the 1980s prominent position players wore the Redskins uniform, including Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr.  Chris Carpenter, Zach Greinke, Ryan Theriot and Cameron Maybin are among the current Major Leaguers who once played for Midland Baseball.

“These kids, their goal is not to get to the Major Leagues. Their goal is to get to the Major Leagues and win a World Series,” Hiler said. “By winning here you get a winning mentality and if you’re with a substandard team, your expectations are going to be substandard. You can have all the all-stars you want, if you don’t have good chemistry throughout your whole organization, you’re not going to be any good.”

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