Clairton baseball team enjoying fruits of labor
There probably isn't a person in Clairton who doesn't know that the Bears football team has won a national-best and state record 63 consecutive games.
And most of the city showed up at Palumbo Center to see the basketball team play Vincentian in the WPIAL Class A championship game.
When it comes to baseball, well, Clairton had a reputation for that as well. Only it wasn't met with glowing words of praise, but with reticence and a general shaking of heads.
That's what happens when a team has never won a WPIAL baseball title since the sport was introduced by the organization in 1914 and goes through a 48-game losing streak.
“After losing that many in baseball, I think they forgot what it was like to win,” second-year Clairton coach Rob Nystrom said. “Since we broke that, everything is looking all right.”
Almost a year to the day since Clairton (2-2, 1-0) pulled off an 11-9 victory over Avella on April 14, 2012 to end that dismal streak, the Bears headed into Wednesday in the unfamiliar position of being in a three-way tie for first place in Section 2-A.
They had an opportunity to show exactly how far they have come, but their game at Bishop Canevin (1-1, 1-0) was rained out.
Instead, Clairton will have to wait for a litmus test to determine how far it has come.
“We're looking pretty good,” Nystrom said. “We've got a lot of young kids on the team, and we're still in a learning process, but everybody's giving 100 percent, and things are looking good for us.”
Clairton has not finished at .500 since an 8-8 campaign in 2005 and has not finished with a winning record since going 10-6 in Section 4-A in 1999.
“We're hoping to make the playoffs,” Nystrom said. “That's one thing we've emphasized this year since we broke the losing streak because that was a big mental (block) for the kids.”
For that to happen, the team will have to continue receiving top-notch contributions from key players like senior starting pitcher Robby Boatright, who is 1-1 on the year, sophomore third baseman Dryan Davenport who leads the team in extra-base hits and senior catcher/outfielder Armani Ford.
Still, perhaps the biggest challenge is building the infrastructure of the program.
“A lot of these schools have kids that play baseball only, but 80-90 percent of our kids play football and basketball, and you have to wait until they're done with basketball to get them to practice,” Nystrom said. “You just have to emphasize that they can be just as good at baseball because we have a lot of good athletes at our school, and we're getting them to be good baseball players.”