NOTE: This story is written by Baldwin Wallace University Director of Athletic Communications & Public Relations Director Kevin Ruple with excerpts taken from the 1998 Yellow Jackets Baseball Almanac by BW graduate and CoSIDA Academic All-America baseball student-athlete Guy Fisher '90 (Strongsville). The 1985 BW Championship Team was to celebrate its 35th Anniversary with a Reunion on Saturday, April 18th at Fisher Field in Berea, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that event was postponed until the spring of 2021.
"It was a magical baseball day," said Stacy Parker '85.
BEREA, Ohio -- Upon the crack of the bat, the crowd at Heritage Field (now known as Fisher Field), which had swelled due to the annual weekend-long May Day festivities (now called April Reign) was now around 900 or so and grew so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
The fly ball that came off the bat of the Marietta College batter was lifted toward left center field, but that was the last time anyone in the crowd saw the ball as it exited sight and into the dust of the spring sky that evening and into the outfield.
Baldwin-Wallace College senior left fielder John Floreia '87 (Mentor) and senior center fielder Jim Stefanik '85 (Strongsville/ 2001 HOF) both raced toward the ball. Was it caught or wasn't it? Did the Yellow Jackets win the title or didn't they? We're they going to play in the NCAA tourney?
BW led 12-11 in the top of the ninth inning in the last game of a seven-game rain-soaked and water-logged weekend where then B-W (who will hence be referred to as BW) had to win a unique tripleheader to capture the first-ever Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament Championship in an effort to earn the school's first-ever berth into the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
"I saw the baseball get hit and come off the bat and go into the air, but once it got past the infield, I lost sight of it," said then veteran Yellow Jacket Head Coach and 1963 graduate Dr. Bob Fisher. "It was hit into left-center field and I was just hoping like everyone else."
The Yellow Jackets, the OAC regular season champs and the top seed in the OAC Tournament, opened the tourney with a loss to Otterbein College on Thursday, May 16 and had their backs to the wall immediately. In addition, due to two and a half days of rain and postponements and rescheduled games, the BW diamondmen remained undaunted in their quest to achieve their season-long goals of winning the OAC title and getting into the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
So, after that first round loss to Otterbein put BW in the loser's bracket, and due to wet field conditions postponing Friday's games, another rain storm on Saturday morning and the fact that Heritage Field was unplayable until Saturday afternoon, May 18, the comeback would begin with BW playing Thursday's other loser, Ohio Northern University, in an elimination game at nearby Oberlin College. Once Heritage Field was made playable, day one winners Otterbein and Marietta played at BW.
At Oberlin College, BW beat ONU, 4-2, behind the outstanding pitching of junior Walt Kendzierski '86 (Eastlake) to stay alive. In Berea, Marietta defeated Otterbein, 3-1, to win the winners bracket and would need just one more win to claim the title and a definite NCAA Division III national tourney berth and probable home field site.
When action resumed on Sunday morning, May 19, and due to NCAA Committee rules, all conference champions needed to be decided by 9:00 p.m. so that the Selection Committee could finish the bracketing for the 1985 NCAA Division III National Tournament which was to begin the following Thursday at sites throughout the country.
At that point, Coach Fisher and his team knew there was just one way to earn the national bid -- it had to win ALL three games. It was just that simple.
In the first game that day, in the loser's bracket final, BW avenged its Thursday first-round, 5-1 loss to Otterbein by beating the Cardinals, 6-3, behind a solid pitching outing by senior Stacy Parker '85 (Strongsville). It set up the championship doubleheader against arch-rival Marietta.
BW had been in this situation before. A week earlier, the Yellow Jackets had traveled to Marietta needing just one win during its season-ending doubleheader to clinch the best regular season record in the OAC and the number one seed in the OAC Tournament. But, after the Pioneers won the first game, 9-2, BW got the win it needed in the nightcap when senior right fielder Chris Check '85 (Westlake) hit a long, key three-run home run to spark at 9-8 victory and give the Jackets the best regular season record and number one seed.
But that meant nothing now as BW had to beat the nationally No.2-ranked Pioneers twice this time or its season was over!
In the first game of the OAC Tournament Championship Round, Stefanik's long three-run homer and senior lefty Steve Topp's '85 (Avon Lake) pitching gem highlighted a 10-5 win. It set up the OAC Tournament Championship Game finale against the Pioneers. One more win, and BW would be OAC Champs and NCAA tourney bound!
But this this time, BW found itself down 10-3 in the fifth inning and the sun going down. The Yellow Jackets had their proverbial backs to the wall big time! But that is when champions rise to the occasion, and that's just what Head Coach Bob Fisher's team did!
In the sixth inning, Stefanik's second three-run homer of the day ignited a four-run rally and got the home team back in the ballgame at 10-7. Two innings later, with the score now 11-7 in Marietta's favor, freshman shortstop Doug Dockus '88 (Cincinnati) smacked a bases-clearing triple to get the Jackets within a run at 11-10.
At that point, Coach Fisher had to make a tough decision.
"Marty Kelley [Senior catcher Marty Kelley '85 (Orange County, CA)] had just finished catching 26 innings," said Fisher, a catcher himself during his playing days at BW. "So, I decided to pinch hit John DiDonato [freshman backup catcher John DiDonato (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)].
"John had shown great promise as a freshman that season," said Fisher. "He had made strong contact with the baseball and for a freshman had shown that he had the ability to make contact in key situations, and he sure did!"
DiDonato remembers the moment when he stepped to the plate with Dockus at third like it was yesterday.
"Marietta was making a pitching change," said DiDonato, and we knew he'd throw a fastball on his first pitch and try to throw a strike to get ahead in the count. So, I wanted to swing at the first pitch and Coach Fisher gave me the go-ahead."
DiDonato knocked the first pitch he saw over the left center field fence for a 12-11 lead. All nine of BW's comeback runs were scored with two outs.
But as the day progressed and night began to descend upon Berea, time was getting short and there was just enough light left in the day to complete the top pf the ninth inning.
The quiet crowd saw the ball go in the air, but that was it. That's the last time they saw the ball..... then the quiet quickly turned to jubilation as first Stefanik appeared through the dusk and then it was Floreia with the ball in his right hand, which he held high over his head, and the large crowd joined the Yellow Jacket baseball team on the infield at now Heritage (now Fisher) Field to celebrate an OAC title and its first-ever OAC Tournament Championship and its first-ever NCAA Division III Tournament berth.
"This put baseball on the map on this campus," said Coach Fisher during the celebration following the final out and to The Plain Dealer sportswriter and BW graduate Bill Nichols.
"Just listen to that crowd," said a beaming Fisher! "We beat the "king" twice. We had to come from behind in one game and had to play 27 innings of baseball to do it. But, we did it."
"It was one of the best moments of community that I have ever experieced on this campus," said Check, who has regularly attends events on the BW campus since 1982.
Fisher also commented to Gerry Henson from the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram: "We had some great offensive players in that final game, but I do want to point out the fine relief pitching that we also received from Dean Obrock '86 (Medina), Marc Trischler '86 (Waxhaw, NC) and freshman Bernie Bonhotel '88 (Amherst). They did a great job in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings."
That moment was the crowning moment for the BW baseball program, but the end of the game was just part of the story. Granted, it was the best part, but you really have to hear the whole story. So, let's start at the beginning and let's talk about this team and let's talk about the people who made it happen.
The 1985 Yellow Jacket baseball season began on its annual spring break trip to Alabama (BW now goes to Florida). In Alabama, Head Coach Bob Fisher's team always played stiff, outstanding competition that included some of the best NAIA scholarship teams in the country like Birmingham Southern (AL) University and the University of Montevallo (AL). BW returned from Alabama winless.
"We definitely didn't play any cream puff schedule on our spring trip," said Check, who has coached numerous players who have gone on to play professional baseball and currently serves as a scout for the Cleveland Indians. "The schedule we played on our southern trip prepared us to play in the best Division III conference in the country."
Undaunted after its trip south, Fisher's team still knew it had all of the ingredients of a championship team -- good, deep pitching; a solid lineup with base hitters, power and speed; and a strong defense, especially up the middle at catcher, shortstop, second base and center field.
The Yellow Jackets returned north and ran off wins in 18 of their next 20 games and won their first 13 OAC contests. By the end of the season, it all added up to a 24-15 record, and the best OAC regular season record and the right to host the first-ever OAC Championship Tournament in Berea.
Led by its senior starters of Obrock, Topp and Kendzierski, part-time starters/ relievers Trischler and Parker and its bullpen of freshman Scot Oehlstrom '88 (Lisbon), Dockus and Bonhotel, the pitching staff was the strength of the team. Following its spring trip, BW fashioned a 23-7 record with a 3.22 earned run average.
Overall, Kendzierski was 7-3 to set a school-record for wins in a single-season and his 11 starts set another mark. Topp was 5-1 in 10 starts and Obrock was 4-3 with a team-high 50 strikeouts in 54 and one-third innings pitched.
In the bullpen, Parker and Trischler tied for the most relief appearances in school history with 10. Parker, who was BW's Most Outstanding Pitcher that season, started four games, was 5-3 with three saves and had a 3.48 ERA. Trischler, who started three games, was 2-1 with four saves and a 3.34 ERA. Bonhotel was 1-0 with a the ninth-inning Championship Game save versus Marietta and a team-leading 2.25 ERA.
The guy who managed the pitching staff like a champ was Kelley. A good hitter (.288 batting average with four homers), but an excellent defender and communicator, Kelley was the "glue that made it all fit" for Fisher and his pitching staff. DiDonato was his backup (two homers)
The hitting lineup was solid from top to bottom, and when Fisher went to his bench for a pinch-hitter, he had plenty of good choices. Overall, the team hit .313 and scored 258 runs in 39 contests (6.61 runs per game) and stole 89 bases.
In the right side of the infield, senior first baseman Andy Weyrich '85 (Salt Lake City, UT), a winner of BW's Alumni Merit Award in 2017, played in a school-record 39 games and hit a career-best .285 en route to CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. Second baseman Jim Magazine '87 (Palm Harbor, FL/ 2003 HOF), a defensive whiz kid who transferred to BW from Division I Kent State, hit .313 with 14 stolen bases and had a .439 on-base average.
On the left side of the infield at shortstop, Kendzierski and Doug Dockus rotated when Kendizerski wasn't pitching, and both could definitely hit! Kendzierski hit .314 with five doubles, three homers and 21 RBI. He went on to win the Most Valuable Player Award. Dockus, who also had two saves as a stopper in six relief appearances, led the team in hitting at .419 and had a .482 on-base average. At third base, steady John Mayles '85 (Massillon) batted .311 with six doubles, a homer and 15 RBI.
In the outfield, Fisher had a wealth of talent in Floreia, Stefanik, Check '85 and Bob Rodriguez ''87 (Macedonia/ 2012 HOF). The trio were as good a trio as have ever graced the diamond at BW! Floreia hit .307, scored 31 runs, stole 19 bases, drove in 28 runs, drew 29 walks and had a .453 on-base average. Stefanik, BW's 1985 Most Outstanding Offensive Player Award-winner (now called the Big Stick Award) hit .351 (a school-record 47-for-134) with a school-record 41 runs scored, a school-record 14 doubles, six homers, a school-record 45 runs batted-in and 19 steals. Check, who was the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award-winner (now called the Gold Glove Award) hit .320 with a team-high three triples and 27 RBI. Rodriguez, who also DH'd, hit .354.
When Fisher went to his bench, he could choose from guys like DiDonato, who was that season's Most Outstanding Freshman. Or then freshman outfielder Dave Rozzo '89 (Ashtabula/ 2017 HOF). Or senior Bill Kraus '85 (Cincinnati) who quietly hit .444 and reached base in seven of 12 at-bats and earned the Outstanding Teammate Award. Or sophomores Dave Rojeck '87 (Jacksonville, FL) and Mario Onesko '87 (Braodview Heights) and freshmen Tony Payton '88 (Burlington, NC) and Troy Frazier (Plummer) '88 (Washington, D.C.).
TEAM PICTURE IDENTIFICATION:
Front Row (left to right): Head Coach Bob Fisher, Doug Dockus, John Floreia, Jim Magazine, Chris Hondlik, Dave Rojeck, Bob Rodriguez, Craig Wright and Assistant Coach Dan Hughes.
Middle Row: Scot Oehstrom, Dave Rozzo, Mark Koepp, Marty Kelley, Dean Obrock, John DiDonato, Mario Onesko and Chris Sito
Back Row: Bill Kraus, Chris Check, Jim Stefanik, John Mayles, Steve Topp, Stacy Parker, Walt Kendzierski, Marc Trischler and Andy Weyrich.
FIRST INDIVIDUAL PHOTO IDENTIFICATION:
Assisant Coach Dan Hughes, who is now the Head Coach of the Seattle Storm of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), and Head Coach Bob Fisher holding the championship trophy.
SECOND INDIVIDUAL PHOTO IDENTIFICATION:
Senior third baseman John Mayles '85 (Massillon) and girlfriend and now wife Tammy following BW's 6-3 first game win versus Otterbein on Sunday, May 19, 1985.
1985 OAC TOURNAMENT GAME SCORES:
- Game 1: #3 MAR 14, #2 ONU 3
- Game 2: #4 OTT 5, #1 B-W 1
- Game 3: B-W 4, ONU 3 (at Oberlin)
- Game 4: MAR 3, OTT 1
- Game 5: B-W 6, OTT 3
- Game 6: B-W 10, MAR 5
- Game 7: B-W 12, MAR 11 (OAC Champions)