CANFIELD -- Although the season ended sooner than they hoped, Canfield High's baseball program appears to be in good hands after a roller-coaster year.
Last spring, a whirlwind of events was set off when Lee Frey was named to replace retiring athletic director Dick Weiss.
In 1998, the versatile Frey, who also has coached soccer and softball at Canfield, rescued the varsity baseball program after the board of education chose not to rehire Dick Duffett.
Frey's job change last summer created a vacuum that doubled in size when the board of education told Sam Pitzulo last summer that he was no longer needed as junior varsity coach. (Pitzulo struck back, stirring up a brilliant media campaign that found him elected to the board last November).
In the fall, Tony Ross, who coached Canfield's football team for 10 years before stepping down in November 2000, was named varsity baseball coach.
This spring, Ross, along with assistants Al Thorne, Tod Thorne and Brian Finnegan, guided the Cards to a 22-7 record against one of the toughest schedules in Ohio.
Canfield's season ended last Saturday at Cene Park in Struthers when Metro Athletic Conference rival Poland broke a two-game losing streak to Canfield with a 9-3 victory in the Division II district final.
If you think Ross is bitter after almost becoming the third Canfield varsity coach in five years to take his team to the regional, you don't know him.
"We didn't hit the ball, we didn't allow ourselves to put pressure on [Poland starter David Yost]," said Ross, a 1983 Canfield graduate. "In big games, you like to put [your opponent] in position where they have to make big plays. Well, they didn't have to make too many of them.
"We wish [Poland] the best of luck against Tallmadge," Ross said.
Family time was the main reason Ross chose to give up football, a job he sees as requiring a year-round commitment.
"Either I want to be a better coach or I want to make sure that my kids know that no matter what happens, they are more important than the game," said Ross, who is the father of 8-year-old twins Anthony and Michael.
The opportunity to coach baseball, which has a much shorter high school season, was perfect for someone who so enjoys working with students.
"Whatever sport you're talking about, you're still coaching kids, motivating kids, getting them to play in different situations," Ross said.
"I think sometimes that coaching baseball is overrated. I really believe that," Ross said. "If you can have your kids in situations where they are relaxed and just play the game, try to take the pressure off of them, you've done a good job.
"Still, it's just a game. Pressure is over in Afghanistan. Today wasn't pressure," Ross said of the district final. "And I think if we can keep that perspective, I think things become a little more focused."
A science teacher, Ross credits Phil Bova and Steve "Sheenie" Krivonak for his baseball education at Canfield.
Will lose five players
Although five of the 10 starters in Canfield's lineup Saturday are graduating, Ross has his ace, junior Dan Leonard, returning next spring. Classmates Brent Parks and Mike Turjanica will join Leonard to fill the top three positions in the batting order.
Sophomores Frank Turocy and Chad Baker, two of the players from the Canfield Baseball Club team that played in Little League's regional final in 1998, were starters this year. More from that team are on the way.
It appears that Canfield has found stability on the baseball diamond.
XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.