Former Knoch baseball players find home with Butler BlueSox
The gang is back together again.
While they may be a few years older, and wiser, a quartet of former Knoch baseball champions have found their summer home with the Butler BlueSox baseball team. Former Knights Chris Law, Connor Shinsky, Alex Stobert and Dom Bucko raised the 2015 WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA trophies over their heads, and the four of them are back playing together again for the first time since their high school days.
“It’s surreal coming back and being all together,” said Stobert, who after playing his first two years of college baseball at Tallahassee Community College accepted an offer from Miami (Ohio). “This summer was the first time I saw (Shinsky) since after high school. He stayed where he was last summer, and I didn’t get a chance to see him over Christmas break. There was that nasty grin he has with that long hair, and we jumped up and gave each other a hug.”
During their high-school days, Shinksy and Stobert combined to become one of the WPIAL’s top pitching duos. Shinksy, a lefty with a blazing fastball, was the more highly recruited of the two hurlers and accepted an offer from Ohio. Stobert went the junior college route before landing in the Mid-American Conference with the Redhawks, Ohio’s top conference rival.
“We knew it was going to happen at some point,” said Shinsky, who will be a redshirt sophomore next season. “We were just waiting for that to come. When we got back together, it was like a reunion. We talk about it every single day in how many players came from Knoch and are still playing at a pretty high level.”
Stobert is a bit of veteran in the Prospect League compared to Shinksy. Stobert jumped aboard the BlueSox train at midseason last summer and helped pitch Butler to its most successful season in franchise history when the BlueSox made it all the way to the Prospect League Championship Series before losing to Lafayette Aviators, 2-1, in a best-of-three series.
“I just wanted to get back home, and it’s cool to play in your hometown,” Stobert said. “The Prospect League is actually a pretty good league, and it’s really nice that it’s in our own backyard.”
Stobert has yet to pick up a win this season for the BlueSox. He holds a 3.45 ERA, given up 25 hits, and struck out 28 batters through 282⁄3 innings pitched.
“I picked Stobert up last year and from being around the area I heard stories,” BlueSox coach Cody Herald said. “This year, he is a whole different person. The thing with his slider is that he throws it so hard, it looks like a fastball out of the hand, and it creates a lot of movement.”
Shinksy holds a 2-2 record and 5.56 ERA through seven starts, including 25 strikeouts through 321⁄3 innings of work.
This summer marks the first time since Shinksy’s Knoch playing days where he is totally healthy. The 6-foot-4 gunslinger started at quarterback for the Knights football team his senior year when he broke his left collarbone to end his senior season. It was an injury that needed time to heal.
“I don’t think I’m too far away,” Shinksy said.
For Herald, Shinsky came as advertised.
“He definitely still has it,” Herald said. “The injury probably put him back, and sometimes when people are injured they’re hesitant because they’re worried about hurting it again.”
Another player who came as advertised was outfielder Bucko, who was a sophomore on Knoch’s championship team but always seemingly played a lot older than his age.
“I got some goosebumps,” said Bucko of his first game as a BlueSox member. “I just do my best not to let them down. I just go out there thinking the same thing every time -- hit the ball hard somewhere.”
Bucko made his presence felt almost immediately. Signed midseason because of an injury, Bucko holds a .390 batting average in 82 at-bats. The Cuyahoga Community College standout also has five doubles, three triples, three homers, eight stolen bases, and 21 RBIs in his 21 games.
Bucko earned game MVP honors in his fourth game. He went 4 for 4, including two singles, a double and four RBIs in Butler’s 11-4 win over Champion City on July 1.
“I talked to him the day we signed him and I said, ‘Hey listen, we need someone to come in and play the game the right way. It’s not about hits for me, it’s about quality at-bats,’ ” Herald said. “He’s just playing great team baseball.”
Law, a third baseman, hails from Herald’s alma mater, Seton Hill. He was supposed to be a BlueSox player last season, but a slow-healing broken bone in his foot kept him away from the game for much of last spring and summer.
Law struggled at the plate early in the season but has since picked it up, hitting .274, with 15 RBIs and six doubles in 124 at-bats. Last Thursday, he became the fourth player in Prospect League history to go 6 for 6 in the Blue Sox’s 13-7 home win over Champion City.
“He’s one of those kids that doesn’t let the bad things snowball on to him, and his chances of success is a little higher,” Herald said. “He’s a great kid.”