Johnny Mac Thunder competes in Florida Major League ballpark

Dreams become a reality for the Johnny Mac Thunder varsity baseball team last week as players played in a championship game of the Barrett-Fletcher World Series, which was conducted at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. The field is the home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Dreams become a reality for the Johnny Mac Thunder varsity baseball team last week as players played in a championship game of the Barrett-Fletcher World Series, which was conducted at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. The field is the home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

By Stephen Glover

Every boy who plays baseball dreams of getting the chance to play in one of Major League Baseball’s stadiums.

Those dreams became a reality for the Johnny Mac Thunder varsity baseball team as it reached the championship game of the Barrett-Fletcher World Series, which was conducted at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. The field is the home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

“How many kids get the chance to play in a Major League Baseball ballpark?” Thunder manager Jim Muskopf asked the Call. “It was a once in a lifetime chance for most of these kids.”

The Thunder (39-7) opened up the tournament on July 21 with a 4-3 win over Chain-Highsmith of Savannah, Ga., despite waiting out four days of showers, which brought eight inches of rain to the Tampa Bay area.

The rain didn’t affect the fields of the Namoli Complex, which is the Devil Rays Spring Training Complex.

“These were the best fields I’ve coached on in 30 years,” Muskopf said. “It was run very professionally. They had four fields available that were all Major League Baseball dimensions.”

Johnny Mac limited Chain-Highsmith to just two hits as Thunder starting pitcher Geoff Mueller went 42/3 innings, in which he gave up three runs on two hits.

Mueller, who had seen limited action this season because of injuries, walked two and struck-out two in a solid performance, according to his head coach.

“Geoff’s performance was very gritty,” Muskopf explained. “He hadn’t started in a year and a half due to injuries.”

Relief pitcher Jeremiah Swafford came in for the final 21/3 innings of the game in relief of Mueller as he kept Chain-Highsmith hitless and scoreless with three strikeouts.

On July 22, Johnny Mac squared off against the Tampa Bay Mavericks, which resulted in a 7-1 pounding by the Thunder.

“The key to the game was that they (Tampa Bay) scored one run on three hits,” Muskopf said. “There was not one inning where they put a lot of men on base. We, on the other hand, had runners all over the place.”

Thunder starting pitcher Andy Marks threw a solid seven innings as he gave up just one run on three hits. Marks also walked four and retired three via strikeout in his eighth win of the season.

“It was not his sharpest of games,” Muskopf said. “He really kept them (Tampa Bay) off stride and maybe it was his wildness which is what kept them guessing.”

The final game of round robin play saw the Thunder hand the Jacksonville, Fla., Rebels a 7-2 defeat, which propelled Johnny Mac into the championship game of the tournament.

Johnny Mac starting pitcher Matt Ikemeier threw 42/3 innings as he gave up two runs on one hit. Ikemeier began to tire in the fifth inning as he walked four batters en route to six base on balls for the afternoon.

“When he started getting tired in the fifth, he began walking guys,” Muskopf said. “He was sharp, but not as sharp as he could have been.”

Muskopf believed that the Thunder probably had one of the best, if not the best pitching staff of the tournament.

“Throughout the tournament, I thought our pitching was probably the best of any team,” Muskopf said. “We didn’t have a bad starter or bad reliever throughout the tournament.”

In the championship game of the Barrett-Fletcher World Series, the Thunder squared off again with the Rebels as the Jacksonville team fought its way back from the losers’ bracket.

“We knew that whoever won this game, would win the championship due to the contract with the Devil Rays for Tropicana Field,” Muskopf said. “Both teams were ready to play.”

Johnny Mac’s Aaron Cox threw a stout six innings, in which he kept the Rebels scoreless after coming off a rehab assignment earlier this month.

“Aaron really kept them (the Rebels) off-balance,” Muskopf said. “He was fine throughout the game.”

Despite the solid performance by Cox, the Thunder lost the game 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth, which gave Johnny Mac runners-up honors.

“They threw a kid at us who was very good,” Muskopf said. “It was the only time we were shut out this season.”

On Aug. 8, the Thunder will have eight players participating in the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association’s All-Star game at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon.

Third baseman Mike Loechel, left fielder Justin Fujarski and designated hitter Eric Tripp will start for the SLABA South All-Stars. Also starting are pitchers Andy Marks, Tom Causino, Matt Ikemeier along with backup catcher Justin Rahn and backup center fielder Jared Mueller.

The SLABA All-Star game is slated for an 8 p.m. start.