BY BECCA JONES-SCALES WEEKLY REPORTER
ST. LOUIS – The O’Fallon Panthers were given a memorable opportunity to play at Busch Stadium in St. Louis following Saturday’s Cardinals game, and they took full advantage of it beating Hillsboro 17-4.
Head Coach Jason Portz said his team really took time to soak in the full experience and fully appreciate the opportunity they were given.
“I thought our team did great today. The Busch day is so much more than just the game. It involves getting to the field at 10 o’clock, taking care of their gear, and then going through a full Cardinal game before they ever step on the field for their game,” Portz said. “Our kids were great representatives of the community while at the stadium and obviously they displayed a great high level of baseball while on the field in their victory over Hillsboro. Our kids have really learned to take in the whole experience on this day. It’s something that our alumni come back each year and say was one of their top moments while at OTHS. Our kids hear that and they take the time to soak in every moment on the field with their teammates.”
Playing at Busch Stadium is a great experience for all the players. Each player has to sell tickets to the Cardinal’s game that’s on the same day as the Amateur game. The Varsity team and the top sellers from the junior varsity, sophomore, and freshman teams get to go in the dugout and play on a major league field. The boys all get their names announced by the Cardinals announcer and take part in two and a half hours of play time. The Amateur Games have been a long tradition at Busch Stadium.
Senior Hayden Schaefer said he will never forget his time playing in a major league ball park.
“Playing in a major league stadium is something that is always an unforgettable experience. The environment is always great and the fact that you get to play on the same field as the best players in the world is amazing. It’s the one game a year where you get to feel like a BIG leaguer and that’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world,” said Schaefer.
Portz believes his team came together well and delivered a solid performance against Hillsboro.
“I feel like offensively Dominic Smiley really gave us a big spark. He had a big double early in the game to drive in a run and was on base two more times throughout the day. It was good to see Nick Boone get a good swing on a ball and knock a double down the line and Joe Guithues continued his hot streak with a couple hits and was on home base three times. Jason Miller came in and gave us a lift in relief while the game was still in limbo. He really does a good job of coming in and throwing strikes in high-leverage situations. He’s become very valuable to us. Overall, I feel like all of our guys – especially some of our younger kids – got a chance to play and really performed well,” Portz said.
Schaefer said good fundamentals and hot bats were the keys to the Panther victory.
“The key to our victory today was surrounded around solid hitting and some great defense. Our bats stayed hot all day and I felt that every player that stepped up to the plate today took a quality approach. I was very happy to see our offense pick up our pitchers this time because our pitchers have been electric throughout the first half of the season,” Schaefer said.
Portz said every time he steps onto the field at Busch he feels like a kid again and wants to thank the community for the opportunity.
“Playing at Busch Stadium is an unforgettable experience for our kids, coaches, and community I’ve done this for over 20 years and each year I get goosebumps when I walk on the field and have so much pride in our community when I see all of the people in the stands and the excitement in our kids. A lot of the boys that I’ve had over the years have been bat boys for me and then come and become players. It’s great to see those kids come full circle and carry on the tradition of Panther baseball. We can’t say thank you to our community enough for supporting our program on this day,” Portz said.
For Schaefer, it was the game of a lifetime.
“This experience will be a memory I look back at and smile at forever. I’m truly thankful for all the hard work our coaches and parents put into this event to make it possible for the players because for us it’s like a dream come true.”