Some of the best memories come from on-the-fly plans or unexpected situations.
It was true, and then some, for a group of former Defiance College Yellow Jacket baseball players as a reunion of friends and teammates was altered with cancellations before finally coming to fruition.
A trip to Omaha for the 2020 NCAA Division I World College Baseball Series had been planned for a group of former class jackets from 1983 and later, including the current Defiance High head coach. School, Tom Held, baseball head coach and DC athletic director. Tinora athletic director Derek Woodley and former DC baseball coach Craig Rutter and a group of about 14 other people.
With the COVID-19 pandemic having canceled the college baseball season, travel has been suspended until this summer.
Fast forward to mid-June and Held, Woodley, Rutter and Norwalk baseball head coach Wes Douglas were planning to fly from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Omaha, to meet other colleagues from DC in their Airbnb residence for a long weekend of baseball, fraternity and memories.
Unfortunately for the group, the world always burdened with flight plans got in the way. Due to a delay, the quartet were informed that there were only three flights left from Chicago to Omaha but all were full.
After concluding that playing flight roulette or renting a car for the trek wasn’t worth it, Woodley’s Ford F150 was put into service and an 11-hour commute was the result.
“It’s a road trip we’ll never forget for sure,” Held said. “We all try to golf once a year whenever Bart Graf is in town from Florida, so we see some of the group. Originally it was going to be something like 14 of us, but with last year’s cancellation by COVID and this year’s schedule, not everyone could make it happen. “
The group ended up being made up of all four, with Graf, local referee Tim Schuerman, Roger Craft (former basketball coach at Covington), Jeff Westfall of Rossford and George McCormick.
Rutter, whose name appears on the Defiance College baseball field after coaching the Jackets for 18 years, had his first season as a head coach in 1983 when Held was a senior with the Jackets. Rutter coached DC to 285 wins from 1983-2001 and after Chad Donsbach led the program from 2002-2007, Woodley took the reins in 2008 and has been leading the program ever since.
As a DC coach, Woodley (169 wins) has plenty of experience on the road recruiting trips and hikes to games and has volunteered to do the hike.
“I think the four of us were looking forward to the four of us coming and we were so excited to go and we just thought we had to find a way to make it happen,” said Woodley. “It was working fine, I had driven it before, so I knew it wouldn’t be that bad.”
As the four made their way to Nebraska, workout podcasts, old stories told and of course baseball were the main sounds coming from the vehicle on the double-digit hour trip.
“These guys might say I’ve talked too much, but that’s a lie,” Rutter said with a laugh. “We had guys from Florida, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and we all met in Omaha. What better place to meet guys who love baseball? “
For Rutter, the bond with the group goes far beyond the simple shared wardrobe colors of purple and gold.
“It’s not just my boys, I’m about nine, 10, 11 years older, there isn’t that much of a difference between us,” said the former DC skipper. “There is always this incredible term of affection that calls me Coach. It makes you feel good. It was just something where we all had fun together, teased each other and loved every minute of it.
With the group finally reunited in Omaha, the ultimate reason for the trip didn’t disappoint either, as the Jackets Hive hosted three doozies on the evening of June 19-21.
On the first night, Vanderbilt and future MLB first-round draft pick Kumar Rocker recovered from a 3-0 first-inning deficit to beat Arizona in a 12-innings single.
On the second night, Mississippi State saw two pitchers combine to strike out 21 Texas batters in a 2-1 pitching duel.
The final game of the weekend featured Vanderbilt again and Jack Leiter, son of former MLB pitcher Al Leiter, struck out 15 hits while allowing four hits, but one was a solo homerun. in the fifth inning as North Carolina State smothered the Commodores 1-0.
“I was there 10 years ago, the first year they left Rosenblatt (Stadium) and that has totally changed and has continued to grow,” Held said. “It’s sold out almost every day… the energy in the stadium was so electric. It’s been a bucket list and we always said if we had a former player we would take the time and go. In 2011 I said I was just going to do it and I, (former Edon coach, current DHS superintendent) Bob Morton, (former Delta coach) Jay LeFevre and (former Paulding and Edon coach, current DHS assistant) Brock Bergman makes the trip.
“There you go, we had three guys who all made it after 2011 (with Louisville) in Dace Kime, Anthony Kidston and Shay Smiddy and all of them went out on the field and I missed it.”
Hits, runs and strikeouts aside, the main part of the day was just the chance to see friends and teammates in person.
“It couldn’t have been better,” Rutter noted. “The stars lined up these four days and brought together friends, teammates, brotherhoods who all had a special connection to Defiance College. He will never leave us.
For Woodley, a native of Minnesota, being an honorary member of the fraternity meant just as much.
“This group is interesting, they trained me even though I obviously didn’t train them,” said the current DC chief. “Over the past six, seven, eight years this group has come together in the summers and put on golf outings and dinners and being a part of that group is really special. For me, it was about listening to them tell their stories at Defiance College and being part of that group was exceptional.
“I don’t know if all of these stories are true or not, but they all have a passion for the baseball program at Defiance College and have a passion for each other.”
As if the band didn’t already know each other, the 11 hour drive to Omaha was something the local quartet had to do twice. After their departure flight was canceled before the trip, the group learned that their return flight had been canceled in the process. Woodley had planned to return to Defiance while the other three got on the plane.
“Honestly, the trip was not bad, the four of us in the truck. I think nobody got bored, ”said Woodley. It is what it is, it worked and we made a positive contribution. “
“There’s nothing I would change except maybe get the flight. “
With baseball back in 2021, diamond knowledge and love of the game provided the perfect setting for a Jacket flashback.
“Life is all about relationships,” Held said. “If you don’t have an event to get together, it won’t happen often. The event was the College World Series, but the gift was the stories and the time together. It’s been almost 40 years, but it really didn’t look any different. That’s the reason for life, to keep those relationships. “
The DHS mentor added, “We were down in the count, but we went in front (opposite field) and got a hit to right field. “