Back Mountain baseball players have been building a history of accomplishments on many age levels.
For a group of 13-year-olds, maintaining that success involves managing a transition.
With one exception, the members of the Back Mountain Prep team in Wyoming Valley American Legion are in their first year of playing on 90-foot bases. Now, with the start of American Legion play, they are just weeks into regular competition with wooden bats.
Players largely accustomed to pounding the ball around the field and over the fences at Little League fields through the end of last summer are learning new ways to play the game.
There is more “team” baseball involved in producing runs.
“On-base percentage means a lot more than slugging percentage at this point,” Back Mountain Prep manager Bob Klinetob said.
Playing entirely with 13-year-olds in their first year of eligibility in the Prep league for 13-14-year-olds, Back Mountain is off to a 3-2 start.
After a season-opening, 10-3 loss to Swoyersville, Back Mountain has won three out of four games with its only loss coming by one run. The wins include victories of 11-9 and 5-3 over Swoyersville in the two most recent outings.
Nick Spencer, the only player with previous experience on the larger field, leads the way.
As a young eighth-grader, Spencer has had two springs on the Dallas Middle School seventh- and eighth-grade team. He went from playing on the 90-foot bases with the school team to playing on the 60-foot bases of Little League last spring.
“He’s a little bit ahead of the game,” Klinetob said of the clean-up hitter, who leads the team in slugging percentage and extra-base hits. “ … He’s doing a great job on the mound.”
Gary Weaver, a pitcher/first baseman with the ability to help the team at other defensive positions, has also been among the offensive leaders from the leadoff and third spots in the batting order.
Klinetob has seen improvement as the season is progressing, including the subtle areas of teamwork and understanding the game.
“What I try to tell everybody is the field is a great equalizer,” said Klinetob, a veteran college assistant coach and Little League coach who is in his first year leading the Prep Legion team. “Then, you compound that with baseball bats.
“These kids come off of seventh- and eighth-grade baseball, a lot of them for the first time pitching 60 feet, running 90 feet, catchers throwing the ball 127 feet and then let’s throw a wooden baseball bat in the mix. You find out real quickly all the little nuances of baseball and what you need to do to play real baseball.”
Most of the players were pitchers and middle infielders as leaders of their Little League teams a year ago, so there is also the task of learning outfield and corner infield positions.
Back Mountain is one of four programs, out of nine, in the Wyoming Valley that has teams on all three levels of Legion Baseball – Senior, Junior and Prep.
“Anton (Kachur) runs our organization,” Klinetob said. “He helped to solidify all three levels.
“He works very hard to make sure Back Mountain can field a team at all three levels.”
Kachur also manages the Senior team that has struggled offensively in an 0-4-1 start in Wyoming Valley League play, but did score 16 runs while splitting a June 17 non-league doubleheader with Williamsport.
Mike Ropietski manages the Junior Legion team that has averaged six runs per game while starting 3-4 in league games.
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