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The Rivalry Will Change
April 22, 2011By Tom Witherspoon of VYPE MAGAZINE - Central Kansas
NOTHING CLOSE ABOUT IT Maize High, loaded with a talented group of juniors and seniors, blasted Goddard in the season opener, 14-1.
When told by someone who actually cares about this kind of stuff - suburban high school baseball in its infancy - that one of the least memorable Maize-Goddard match-ups involved both a future first-round pick in the MLB draft and another fifth-rounder who'd start in the majors for a decade, the pro scout would furrow his discerning brow, stare down at an imaginary radar gun in a mock gesture, laugh and beg to differ.
It's not the game coaches from either Maize or Goddard remember, but in 1995, Maize's Nate Robertson was a senior left-handed pitcher who could throw the ball 85 mph. Scouts drool over hard-throwing lefties. The same spring, Goddard right-hander Ben Christensen stood six-foot-four as a junior and threw harder than Robertson. Four years later he'd throw 94 mph at his pro day at Wichita State and be drafted 26th overall by the Chicago Cubs.
"See what this radar gun says," the scout, the four-seam speed police, eyes glued to digits dialed up on a black screen on the back-side of an elongated camera empowered to warrant young people worthy of million-dollar contracts. "That's a prospect. And that number - that's the only detail of any game me or the club will ever remember."
But while prospects are a piece of the history of the Maize-Goddard baseball series, the ultimate source of pride in the rivalry is the depth and dominance of both programs over time. Head-to-head, there isn't a more meaningful baseball game in the area on an annual basis. Suburban west Wichita is fraught with talented baseball players, and each year for more than a decade, the best of the best have played at Maize and Goddard.
Icon Sports Media
Chris Lee/Icon SMI
MAIZE TO MAJORS While many prospects have played at both schools, Maize's Nate Robertson is the headliner. Following his college career at Wichita State, the left-hander has put together a near decade-long career in the major leagues, pitching for the Detroit Tigers in Game 3 of the 2006 World Series and most recently appearing with the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Robertson started the season on the Seattle Mariners' disabled list.
Courtesy Wichita State
TOP DRAFT PICK The 1995 Maize-Goddard game was the final one including two top prospects, Robertson and Goddard's Ben Christensen, who would be drafted out of Wichita State in the first round the MLB draft.
Jim Foltz was Goddard's head coach from 1996 to 2004 and coached in the program for 16 years from its inception in the late 1980s. He was in the dugout for every Maize-Goddard game through 2004, an era in which the Chisholm Trail League came of age and became a haven for Wichita State baseball recruiting.
He saw the 1995 game and the 1996 game Christensen's senior year, but those aren't the games which stick out in Foltz' mind.
"Maize won 5-4 [in 1996]," said Foltz, bypassing the 1995 game entirely when asked for a particular year's match-up which stood out from the others. "I can recall that game - one of those that defense and a lack of depth hurt us. Ben pitched real well."
But at that point, Goddard hadn't quite arrived in the way Maize had.
"Maize was one of those teams in the late '90s," Foltz continues. "They had the Robertsons and Brian Schoenhofer [Wichita State recruit] that were going through and put them on the map. We were just excited to be thought of in the same sentence."
Foltz says Goddard baseball became a serious contender after the 2000 double-header with Maize. The Chisholm Trail League Division I title was on the line. At the turn of the millenium, the Maize-Goddard games were intense.
"Maize had a one-game lead in the league. It came to the last day and we had to sweep them to win league," says Foltz. "We came from behind in the first game and won, then won the second game on a bases-loaded home run."
Technically, it wasn't quite a home run. Chris Costello, who knocked in the game-winning runs, was mobbed by his teammates between third base and home plate before he could complete the in-the-parker.
It certainly wasn't a walk-off. Costello ran as hard as he could every step of the way, as his three runs batted-in erased Maize's 2-0 lead and won the game, 3-2.
"It's a unique story. The [Maize] center fielder went back, leaned on the fence and it broke. He fell, the ball hit the fence and rolled back into play."
The center fielder that day, Adam Ewy, didn't exactly lean on the fence. As his father, Randy, remembers it, Ewy ran through the fence in left-center field.
"Adam went back - it was a four-foot chainlink fence," begins Randy, a former KBI agent with an eye for detail and memory for descriptions, 11 years after the play his son didn't quite make as a sophomore. "I know exactly the play you're talking about.
"I don't think he came down with the ball, plus he destroyed the fence." A dad of one of the Goddard players asked Randy if he was going to pay for the fence. "I told him if [the fence] was worth a darn to begin with he would have not broken it."
"It was just a poor fence," says Adam. "As soon as it left the bat, I thought it was gone. As soon as it hit my glove, the chainlink fence caught me and I went flying over the fence.
"I hit it at full speed - I wouldn't say it collapsed. There was a section of it lying on the ground - almost to the ground. I hit it right on the post."
"There may have been a bruise later. Probably lucky something wasn't fractured."
Since then, Goddard has built an outstanding new baseball facility. The Ewys, though they remember how heated the games were (carrying over rivalries between teammates and opponents from years of summer games throughout childhood), can frame the incident in a more lighthearted humor today.
"It was a fierce rivalry for years," says Randy. "I'm not sure if it still is."
Foltz remembers that Ewy lay on top of the collapsed chainlink while the bases cleared for a 3-2 Goddard win. Costello completed something between a triple and a home run.
Foltz, now the athletic director and assistant principal at Maize South Middle School, still receives ribbing from those on the Maize side of things that day for "rigging" up the fence.
"It taught us that day that we can play with these guys," says Foltz, whose team didn't score a run in either game of the double-header until the final inning. "From then on, one or two of us seemed to be right there." Maize and Goddard have accounted for their league's championship every season since 1998 except for 2002.
Still, Maize was the first of the two programs to make a splash at state. The same season, 2000, Maize rebounded from Goddard's dramatic sweep to make the Class 6A state title game, the first of five to date, the most recent of which was last spring. They have two state championships in 2003 and 2005, Goddard in 2004.
Costello, and the names of pitchers Nail, Jakubov, Cumbie and Howard who combined to allow just eight runs in the two games in 2000, are forgotten, but the tradition they helped build has endured: every spring, Maize-Goddard has showcased the best talent in the best game in town.
Chris Proctor/Four Seam Images
Bill Mitchell/Four Seam Images
Bill Mitchell/Four Seam Images
PRO DEPTH Since 2004, Goddard has graduated three current pro baseball players: Travis Banwart, currently in Triple-A with the A's; Logan Watkins, in high Single-A with the Cubs; and Derek Norris, in Double-A with the Nationals.
"IT WON'T BE the same. The rivalry will change."
Maize High and Goddard High were in different divisions of the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but the changes the schools currently are undergoing are more drastic. The Maize district opened a second high school in 2009. Goddard will open its second high school, Eisenhower, this fall.
Will the school splits water down the baseball programs? For sure, it will affect the future of the rivalry. Goddard and Maize won't be competing against each other in the post-season for at least the next several years. Both of Goddard's high schools are projected as being classified in 5A next year, while Maize High remains in 6A.
What's the future for Goddard, which recently had a nine-game winning streak against mighty Maize? The Lions had the best team around for several seasons, showing an ability to beat equal or better Maize teams in the clutch, rolling out future pros like fourth-round MLB pick Derek Norris behind the plate and shortstop Logan Watkins.
All those years the baseball program was ramping up over the past two decades, the Goddard district was growing by leaps and bounds. Today, as Goddard High School sits as one of the largest in the state of Kansas, it's hard to believe that 15 years ago Foltz says he was struggling to keep up with Class 5A programs like Maize. "We didn't have nearly the depth to compete in 5A," says Foltz.
This spring, Goddard baseball coach Tom Campa had 85 boys go out for baseball. Quite a few Class 6A schools don't have 85 boys out for football.
Campa, who took over the Goddard High program in 2005 when Foltz took an administrative position in the Goddard district, is, just as he deems the future of the rivalry, in for some changes next year.
The situation for baseball is transforming more drastically for Goddard than Maize. With the upstart Class 4A Maize South Mavericks two years in on the other side of Maize Road, Maize High has done more than tread water. They made the state championship game in 2010 and started the 2011 season by beating three 2010 state-tournament teams by a combined score 63-3.
But the Maize district at this point in time is a different beast from Goddard. Students in the district get to choose which of the two high schools they want to attend, allowing baseball players to congregate if they so choose.
Conversely, the Goddard district has drawn a boundary for its two high schools. Kids north of Highway 54 go to Eisenhower; south of 54, Goddard High.
Campa is moving over to the new high school, Eisenhower. Will the baseball players go with him? "Sophomores and freshmen [this school year] go to a high school according to the boundary," says Campa, though surely anyone who has observed the shenanigans which occur with transfers in other districts with multiple high schools roll their eyes at such a "hard line." Juniors have been given the choice to stay at Goddard High to finish out high school no matter what side of the line they live on.
Playing for the right baseball school is a hot topic for baseball parents, which is nothing new. Parents have called up Wichita's local sports talk radio show "Sports Daily" over the years and openly talked about how they moved out of the city of Wichita to the suburbs so their kid could play for the best high school baseball team and get noticed for recruiting. Some parents will move locations much further than the outskirts of the city to put their son at the right school for recruiting.
They sort of have a point, at least when it comes to playing for Maize or Goddard. Games between the two teams in the past have been characterized by big crowds and lots of scouts.
Maize baseball coach Rocky Helm remembers when Eli Rumler's mother called him about moving into the Maize district from Lyons so he could get more exposure. Helm says he told the family that such a move really wasn't necessary for college recruitment - good players make their way as prospects, no matter where they live. Helm would know - he made it out of then small-town Maize High School in 1984 and lettered as an outfielder for both Butler County and the Kansas Jayhawks. Even into the late 1990s he was playing at a high level, helping preserve the reputation of the NBC World Series as a semi-pro event, hitting home runs and manning the outfield for the old but competitive Wichita Sluggers.
But Rumler enrolled at Maize anyway, and Maize won its first Class 6A state championship that season in 2003.
Not that Rumler was the reason they won state. Rumler was the team's sixth-leading hitter in terms of batting average. The shortstop went on to a career at Kansas State and played a couple seasons of minor league baseball. He originally signed out of high school with Central Missouri State. It may have been more difficult for him to stand out at Maize than at Lyons, since the Eagles had five other prospects on the team, including catcher Brent Milleville, who turned into one of the Pac-10's top hitters as a first baseman for Stanford.
Success breeds success. The best find a way to play with the best. The rich get richer, evidenced by an incredible swing in talent between Maize High and Goddard High this past off-season. In a move that added to Maize's outrageous depth for 2011, offering them an embarrassment of riches, former Goddard shortstop and pitcher Gabe Cook is starting at shortstop for Maize this season. After pitching just eight innings last season for Goddard, he threw two shutout innings for the Eagles against Goddard in Maize's season-opening 14-1 victory over their rival on March 31. After batting under .250 last season, Cook was 7 of 13 with four extra-base hits in this season's first six games with Maize.
Cook was a note at the very bottom of Maize coach Rocky Helm's pre-season prospectus - the juco signee with Butler is now the Eagles' No. 2 pitcher and starting shortstop.
Helm was as surprised as anyone when Cook showed up in his hallways, though he fit right in. Cook plays summer ball for the Midwest Wolverines along with three of his Maize teammates - J.C. Sturgeon, Gage Byers and Tory Bell. Sturgeon's a junior, but Byers and Bell already are signed with Butler, as well.
You'll have to forgive Rocky for not thinking of such a talent until last. The 13-year Maize head coach, 20 years with the baseball program, nearly from its first season in 1989, has had so much talent move through the well-oiled machine that is Maize baseball that he doesn't get overly excited about any one player in particular.
HELM KEPT 50 players in his program this season, including 23 freshmen. Maize has two C teams. "How much is it going to cost me," is what Maize district athletic director Marc Haught asked Helm when he requested that the program have two C teams. "Umpires," Helm said. "We can do that," Haught responded.
Thus was born the largest high school baseball program around.
In one of the final practices leading up to their convincing start against Goddard, both of Maize's baseball fields were populated with enough players to field two teams for each field, including a bench for each of the four teams. Some of their most competitive games take place within the squad. The alumni games are just as good or better.
Baseball games at Maize aren't quite like Friday nights, but they're not far off, which is an oddity. Football is usually king by far. In 2001 boosters built a miniature version of Wichita State's baseball grandstand at the Maize High baseball field they call their "Field of Dreams." It's miniature, yes, but no other team around has box seats embedded in concrete that wraps around the entire area behind home plate.
At that practice, players on both fields warm up at their position for about 30 minutes. Then everyone congregates on the main field to take infield and outfield with multiple players at each position. Afterward, the assistant coach who hit balls for fielding practice isn't happy with his performance. "I still need work," he says after hitting a few tricklers and totally failing to hit a fly ball for the catchers. He sets aside his fungo in the dugout.
Another assistant grabs his fungo and relieves him for the next round of infield and outfield. A number of players switch positions and others take the field from outside the chalk. Eleven pitchers lined up in foul territory between third base and home plate watch and chatter. "I've never had a shortage of pitchers," Helm says. No kidding.
The outfield throws the ball to second base, then third base, then home. The infield gets one at first base, then two. Then they go back to first base and cover their bag for a throw from the catcher. Then they get a slow roller and throw it to first and hustle in.
Helm just observes. He has a team of robots, programmed to make every baseball move the right way within the confines of the practice routine they've completed hundreds of times since age 6 at Westurban.
"My main concern is team chemistry, keeping the right mix of players," says Helm. In other words - finding enough playing time for bench players who would start at other schools. Not just players - parents like playing time.
Helm also keeps track of the players' academic performance. After infield and outfield, the team gathers in the dugout for Helm's "D-F List" review. Helm calls out the name of each player on the list and asks for immediate improvement. It doesn't matter how good a player looks on the field if he's never on it.
There have been nearly too many good ones to count. Maize has had 102 players sign to play college baseball, not including Garrett Gould, who became the Eagles' first player to go straight to the pros out of high school as a second-round pick by the L.A. Dodgers in 2009.
Check out the list of players who have taken the field for Helm: Robertson; Jack Welsh, who set the hit-by-pitch record at Arkansas from 1997 to 2000; Luke Robertson, a K-Stater who got drafted; Matt Baty, the first KU baseball player ever picked first-team all-Big 12; Milleville and Rumler; and most recently, Gould, KU's Jake Marasco, Wichita State's Ryan Hege and Class of 2011 Shocker signee Conner Knight.
No wonder so many baseball players in the district still choose Maize High. No wonder why they have a hundred kids go out for baseball. No wonder kids move from Lyons to play there. It's a tradition.
HELM AT THE HELM Maize baseball coach Rocky Helm (with Wichita State signee Conner Knight) graduated from Maize in 1984, returned as a coach in 1992 and has been there ever since, helping coach 102 future college baseball players.
JUST A COUPLE OF Gs Gage Byers and Gabe Cook are Maize's top two starting pitchers this season, heading up a deep staff that is supported by an offense which scored 63 runs in their first four games against 2010 state-tournament teams.
MAIZE QUICKLY GAINED traction in high school baseball after the program started in 1989. Though still several years from winning a state championship, coach Larry Harvatin had the Eagles ranked No. 2 in Class 6A in 1997. Harvatin, formerly the Wichita Northwest head coach for nine years before his move to the Maize district in 1993, was an early sign that the balance of power in baseball was moving from the city to the west-side suburbs.
"Maize has several coaches just for baseball," Harvatin told the Wichita Eagle after his final season at Northwest in 1993. "[At Northwest] we have four track coaches for 26 kids and baseball has two coaches and we're cutting 62."
Do those baseball numbers sound familiar? Helm cut just eight players this season but, remember, he has two C teams. Plus, there were about 30 other kids out for baseball at Maize South. Those kids were going out at Maize High two years ago. Maize High has plenty of coaches - seven - including, as documented, a back-up fungo.
As hard as it is to believe now, Helm remembers the days when he first started at Maize in 1992 when they scheduled Attica, one of the state's smallest schools located west of Anthony in Harper County. The previous season in 1991, Attica had made the Class 3-2-1A state semi-finals; in 1993 they beat Wichita Collegiate at regionals. High school baseball outside Wichita's City League was in its infancy, and teams played whoever was available to fill out the schedule.
The constant on Maize's schedule from the beginning has been Goddard. The two schools grew from Class 5A to Class 6A and transitioned from the Chisholm Trail to the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail together. Back in the days of the Robertsons, Maize had a mystique about it that Goddard wanted. But despite the overwhelming amount of prospects Maize has produced over the years, Goddard has always been a worthy adversary, even before the year Goddard proved it belonged with the most dramatic double-header sweep in the history of the series. In 1992, Helm's first season with Maize as an assistant, Goddard beat Maize, 3-1, in a Class 5A regional final. Don't get it wrong - Goddard baseball's been here for years.
The edge in this rivalry goes back and forth, though who knows how much of a rivalry there will be in coming years. No longer in the same league since Goddard moved back down to Division II of the AV-CTL in anticipation of the next year's district split, the Eagles and Lions played once this season, and it was an opener rather than the usual much-anticipated double-header at the end of the season to decide the league championship. Maize High, their talent and depth unaffected by their own district split, routed Goddard 14-1.
Foltz, who makes a point to attend each year's Maize-Goddard games, approached Helm after the game. "I said, 'Wow,' and he says, 'Yeah, I know, we did pretty well.' His kids were doing some things that you hope they're doing in May.
Foltz tells a story about Travis Banwart, whose career he still follows with Oakland's Triple-A franchise in Sacramento. Banwart, a former star pitcher for the Shockers, graduated from Goddard in 2004, the Lions' state-title season and Foltz' final one as coach. "Until his senior year, his overall record [as a pitcher] was 9-8, then his senior year he's 10-0. It happens for kids especially at that level of competition - sometimes it takes until you're a senior."
"It can be so cyclical. Maize has a good group of juniors and seniors right now. With numbers, sometimes the cream rises and it's all good.
"It'll be interesting to see what happens with Goddard."
Campa, who will always be able to hang his hat on that incredible nine-game winning streak against Maize, will seek to carve out the same identity for Eisenhower baseball as he did for Goddard High. He tells the newspaper the same thing every year when a reporter calls for an advance story previewing that year's Maize-Goddard game and asks who will win: "Whoever is better prepared and whoever makes fewer mistakes."
But now it's not just a matter of preparing players, it's a matter of what schools will get the players. Was the 14-1 deficit this year an anti-climactic ending for this rivalry?
Whichever school that rises to the top in each of the two districts, players in both districts will continue to display the area's best brand of baseball. Westurban isn't going anywhere.
"You look at the domination of Wichita South in basketball [in past decades], and [Wichita] Heights has got something going now that's impressive [in multiple sports]," says Foltz, "but there's a lot of good baseball that's happened in the last 10 to 12 years on the west side."