Wauwatosa West baseball coach Chad Mateske is seeing some positives from the Jr. Trojans feeder program he helped set up a few years ago.
"This is the third year that it's been up and running," he said, "starting with this freshman group as seventh-graders. (Players fathers) Mike Morgan and Dave Belknapp, among others, have put a lot of effort into it."
Mateske has been thrilled with the growth the program.
"After the first year, a ton of interest was shown from the fifth- through eighth-grade classes. Out of the four grades, three more teams (fifth, seventh and eighth grades) were formed the second year.
"We now have tournament teams from fifth through eighth grades and a U11 team that is very good," Mateske said. "These kids are pretty fundamentally sound. They look like they know what they are doing."
Dads make a difference
Mateske knows who to give the credit to.
"The coaches, without a doubt," he said. "They coach at open gyms; they run the spring program. They are dedicated dads who volunteer their time. Baseball has become family time, going to tournament games.
"Their willingness to not only see their sons improve, but the entire kids around them as well have been the key. We have good talent coming through the pipelines."
Jeff Akin (son Sean), Fred Orlando (Adam) and Dave Dvorak (Rob) have been key to the program the past few years, Mateske points out.
"I have been impressed by the dedicated senior dads," Mateske said. "Running open gyms in the evening, handling spring league games. And when it comes to fundraising, Bob Dennick has been critical over the last four years."
Tosa West starters freshmen catcher Mickey Morgan and shortstop J.J. Belknapp are part of a good freshman class, as is Ben Carpenter from Wauwatosa East.
Morgan and Carpenter played in the North Central Little League and various tournament teams, while Belknapp played in the Tosa League. Belknapp also played on the Tosa Trojans tournament team with Morgan. Morgan and Carpenter played together and also against each other in North Central and in various tournaments.
"I was playing in the North Central Little League, but I came over when the program started," Morgan said. "For every sport, they've (the coaches) been great. They've been helping me."
Belknapp also was excited about the program.
"We played a lot down on the junior team," he said. "Our coaches were really good. They helped make us better and gave us an opportunity to be where we are now.
"It's really important. Dads step up, and they really get it done. We're looking at improvement through all the levels."
Younger players get respect
Mateske then brought up an incident that made him proud of the program.
"I was pulled off to the side one day and this person told me how impressed he was with our senior leaders and their fathers working with the freshmen. Our seniors don't look down on the younger kids. They help them get better.
"It may not show up wins-wise, but things have been done that will pay off down the road."
"Our feeder program has been phenomenal," Tosa East coach Matt Dahlstrom said. "We have been lucky enough to have some real great coaches. Coaching the kids to when they get to the high school level, that's been helpful. We're on the same page.
"… In the past you were using guys that were using simple terminology and you'd expect them to know what or how to do things.
"We're well beyond that initial stage now and we were able to coach the game of baseball and not tell them things like where to cut, what to do on a 3-1 count and things like that. They're starting to do that. It's unbelievably helpful, and it's kind of showing in our record."
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Wauwatosa West - The Trojans have freshmen shortstop J.J. Belknapp and catcher Mickey Morgan and sophomore pitcher/outfielder Tyler Gross playing key roles on this year's team. Sophomore Travis Hudson (injured) and freshmen Austin Jones and Matt Gillis also are players to watch for.
Wauwatosa East - Ben Carpenter is the only freshman on the Red Raiders' varsity, but like Belknapp and Morgan, he plays a key role, batting second and playing shortstop.
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