Charleroi, Monessen alums were friends Friday, are rivals today
MONESSEN — There were many smiles Friday on players at a pre-game social who will take the field today in the first Charleroi-Monessen alumni baseball game.
But players from both sides vowed that their game faces will be on when the first pitch at the fund-raising event is thrown at 5 p.m. at Vets Field in Charleroi.
Team members representing both sides of the cross-river rivalry got together at the Monessen Elks Club Friday to have dinner and start some chatter.
"Our guys want to win," said Monessen varsity baseball assistant coach Jim Smith, a Monessen police officer. "These alumni things start off that it's all about winning the game. But, by the time the game gets here, you appreciate the people that you're playing with."
Smith and Charleroi Area varsity baseball assistant and head football coach Luke Mollis tossed around the idea of an alumni baseball game several months ago.
Smith and Mollis played for their respective sides in the recent Charleroi-Monessen alumni football game.
The football game was a success, so the two pushed forward with the alumni baseball game.
The players said they are primed to face off again on the ballfield.
"As a player, I never beat Charleroi. When I was in high school, we were in the same section," Smith said. "As a coach, in the last couple years, we've been able to beat them. We scrimmage one another."
Mollis, who was a standout Charleroi catcher, said he is eager to be behind the plate again.
"This is a little bit more lax," he said, comparing the pre-game atmosphere to the alumni football game's buildup. "There's not as big of a concern with getting hurt. But, guys are still going to go out there, do their best, and try to win."
Monessen has 20 players on its alumni roster.
Charleroi is bringing about two dozen to the plate.
Some of the players were once teammates, as the Charleroi Legion team formerly comprised Greyhounds and Cougars.
Smith said, rivalry aside, both sides are committed to raising money for the kids representing the schools now.
"With everything getting cut for education, our baseball budget's been cut. We'd like to be able to send some of our kids to camps to deal with other coaches," Smith said.
The baseball players that will take the field tonight each made donations to the cause, and the event proceeds will be divided between the Charleroi and Monessen high school teams.
"The majority of the money we will raise is coming from the players," Smith said. "My objective was met when all of these people showed up and said they were going to play in the game. The biggest thing is we want to see this grow."
Smith said a golf outing and other fund-raising events that would coincide with next year's alumni baseball game weekend are in the works.
He said there was an impressive response from Monessen and Charleroi graduates once word got out of the baseball game.
"One of the guys that is playing for me came all the way up from Texas, Mike Grogan. Larry 'Putt' Aldrich came up from D.C," Smith said. "The two classes with the most players are the guys that graduated two years ago and the class of '85 ... that was the last class to win the section championship in Monessen. The coach from that '85 team, Bob Freado, is coming back to help out at the game."
Bill Matush, Monessen's varsity baseball head coach for the last nine years, will play infield at the alumni game.
"We're just going to have a little bit of fun, raise some money and play with some people I never had the opportunity to," Matush said. "Most of these guys I either played with or coached with, so it makes it a little more special for me. I have a really good rapport with all of them."
Aaron Kunder, a 1988 Monessen graduate, played four years for Coastal Carolina University.
He said taking the field again against the Cougars could be the chance to break a personal curse.
"My history with Charleroi, they always beat us," he said. "I played three years and we were 0-6 against Charleroi. I hope it's not more of the same."
Kunder said he could see some friendly faces on the other side.
"I ended up playing Legion for Charleroi, so hopefully I'll see some old teammates over there," he said.
Kunder, an Intermediate Unit 1 teacher living in Monessen, said the Greyhound alumni team is determined.
"We're ready to compete," he said. "We've had about five (practices). Jim (Smith) has been working us hard. Everyday, I've got a different ache and pain. I wish they would have done this about 15 years ago."
Raising money for his hometown team is the priority, despite the outcome, Kunder added.
"Hopefully, we can see those guys make the playoffs. The last time the team made the playoffs was my junior year," he said.
Smith said he is proud of the deep pool of talent that will represent both schools.
"I haven't even thought about if I will play or not," he added. "If I do, I'm too smart to play in the infield. I'll be out where there's some grass underneath my feet."
The players involved in tonight's Monessen and Charleroi alumni baseball game.
Smith said the days leading up to the game have been a learning experience.
"You find out things. I never knew we had an undefeated team in 1973," he said of the Greyhounds.
Monessen hurler Walt Cieply was on that undefeated team.
The now Belle Vernon resident will be on the mound at the alumni game.
Pitchers are allowed to throw up to nine outs.
Cieply said there are no signs of rust in his arm.
"I've been pitching for the last 20 years. I have four kids," said Cieply, 55, who is a nurse at Monongahela Valley Hospital. "Those muscles are in tune but anything else like fielding and quick motion, forget it. I'll hit, but I'm saving myself to pitch."
Cieply gave credit to the alumni game organizers for having the vision to find a different way to support their teams.
"I think they're being creative. This is a good way to make money and keep the interest up," he said.
Mike Lewgood, a 2009 Monessen High graduate, will be in the Greyhounds' pitching rotation.
"It's definitely going to be competitive, but I guess it's all about fundraising," he said.
Lewgood said he may take it easy on some of the older players, if his team has a cushion on the scoreboard.
"We'll see how the game progresses. I don't plan on losing, let's put it that way," he said.
Joe Janosik, who played with Lewgood in high school, said he would switch infield and outfield.
"I just think it's a great thing, to raise money for the kids, and it's just another chance to put on the Monessen uniform and play Charleroi again," Janosik said.
Bob Weston, a 1991 Charleroi graduate, said he hasn't played ball since high school.
"My boy plays tee-ball so I coach him, but I'm just going to have a good time against the guys we haven't played since 20 years ago," the 39-year-old said.
Weston said he is in it for the long haul.
"They were talking about doing every year. I'll do it," he said.
Brian Dankanich, who played for Charleroi with Weston, said he will reprise his role as a Cougar catcher.
"I'm in it just to have fun and see some of the guys," he said. "I played in an alumni game with the Legion a few years ago, but that was it."
Charleroi varsity baseball head coach Brian Corrin said the lineups make for a great alumni game.
"Most of these guys that are playing were all starters for Charleroi or played on section championship teams," the coach said.
The Cougar alumni team had one practice.
"The practice has been a little light but from some of the comments, the attitudes will certainly change when we cross the chalk," Corrin said. "The competitive juices are going to flow, believe me."
Corrin, a 1979 Charleroi Area graduate, said he plans to pitch one inning in the alumni game.
The coach said he is excited to be part of what should become a longstanding alumni tradition.
"Unfortunately, with the budget that was passed, all school districts, especially public schools are strapped for money," he said. "For two schools that supposedly hate each other to come together on common ground, this is fantastic."