Disabato: St. Laurence-St. Rita baseball incident embarrassing to the Southland
Pat Disabato email@example.com | (708) 802-8837 May 21, 2012 4:56PM
St. Rita coach Mike Zunica. | File photo
“It was a total cheap shot. They (St. Laurence) have to take full ownership for this. It was incited by a malicious cheap shot on our kid.”
St. Rita baseball coach
Updated: July 2, 2012 8:09AM
There are many things both St. Rita and St. Laurence can be proud of in their rich histories.
Friday night’s baseball melee doesn’t rank among them.
It was an embarrassing sight, a black eye for both schools and, in the big picture, the Southland high school sports scene.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, St. Laurence’s Zach Lewis hit a popup just in front of first base. On his way down the line, Lewis slammed into St. Rita first baseman Rick Faron as Faron was catching the ball, sending the 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior to the ground.
Faron, a key member of St. Rita hockey team’s run to the Kennedy Cup and state championship, got up and delivered a two-handed shove to Lewis’ face.
Both benches emptied in front of the St. Laurence dugout. Just when it appeared order had been restored, members of both coaching staffs reignited things — shoving, grappling, generally educating their students only in how not to behave.
It was an ugly, ugly scene — made worse when you consider the two teams were competing in the “Do it Stevie’s Way Challenge,” a memorial tournament to honor Stevie Bajenski, a Mount Carmel baseball player who died in 2009 from heart complications from surgery.
This wasn’t Stevie’s Way. More like Milton Bradley’s way.
“My family and I and the (Stevie’s Way) foundation are extremely disappointed,” said Mark Bajenski, Stevie’s father. “My wife was distraught about the whole thing. The hope is, after talking to (St. Laurence coach) Pete (Lotus) and (St. Rita coach) Mike (Zunica), they get the big picture. It’s a game. It has nothing to do with literally beating the (crap) out of each other. It’s something that will be addressed as we move forward in 2013. It will not be tolerated.”
Lewis and Faron were ejected from the game — won by St. Rita 6-5 — and suspended the next game. However, the IHSA is involved and further suspensions likely are to follow prior to regional play Wednesday, according to IHSA assistant executive director Craig Anderson.
“I think the potential for additional people, including coaches, and players to be suspended beyond the single game exists,” Anderson said. “We’ve reached out to the schools to see what additional action they will take. Pending what they do, we can follow through with additional actions and penalties.”
Depending on who gets suspended and for how long, that could have a major impact on either team’s ability to make a long playoff run.
No matter where your allegiance lies, there’s no denying the 6-3, 200-pound Lewis’ intent. He made no attempt to avoid Faron, who was near the baseline.
“It was a total cheap shot,” St. Rita coach Mike Zunica said. “They (St. Laurence) have to take full ownership for this. It was incited by a malicious cheap shot on our kid.”
Earlier in the game, St. Rita pitcher Scott Thomas hit Lewis with a pitch — a curveball to the knee in the fifth inning. Lewis used his hand to brush his knee twice, as though waving off a mosquito, on his way to first base. Thomas was visibly angered by the motion and said something to Lewis.
A few batters earlier, St. Laurence’s Mike Kornacker had homered off Thomas.
“First off, I would never have a kid hit with a pitch,” Zunica said. “If there was intent, why would we wait three batters to hit a kid? And it was a little rinky-dink curveball. Give me a break.”
A contrite Lotus had a much different tone.
“I hated every second of it,” he said. “I’m embarrassed, I’m ashamed of what happened. My heart was crushed for ‘Budge’ (Mark Bajenski). I’ve known him for 15 years. I knew Stevie. It took away what this tournament is about. Zach was 100 percent wrong in what he did and he feels terrible about it. Our whole team does. But there was some stuff that led up to it.”
One of the most endearing qualities of the Catholic League is the intensity level shown during games by players, coaches and fans. At a time when many rivalries have lost their edge, the Catholic League remains as intense as ever while not — most of the time — compromising the values of sportsmanship. It’s an admirable quality, one owed to each school educating its athletes on the rich tradition and history of the league.
This isn’t the type of historical moment to which the Catholic League wants its name attached.
There may be some good to come out of this. St. Laurence will do away with its player chants during games that have rubbed more than a few opponents the wrong way.
“My kids won’t say anything to anybody anymore,” Lotus said. “We’re going to make some changes. It’s going to be different. We get under some teams’ skin with our chants. No more over-the-top stuff. I want our kids to be supportive of each other.”