City League baseball teams adjusting to WPIAL schedules
Brashear coach Nate Geller has fond memories of City League baseball, including a few seasons in the '80s when he was a catcher for Peabody.
“That was in the heyday of City League baseball,” he said. “There was always a luster about being City champs.”
But Peabody shut its doors in 2011. When Schenley, Langley and Oliver also closed, the shrinking City League was left with just six schools. So, this season, its three most successful baseball programs — Allderdice, Brashear and Carrick — joined the WPIAL with a desire for fuller schedules and better competition.
As a result, for the first time in decades, there will be no City champion.
“You hate to see the City League kind of fall apart,” Geller said, “but the transition has gone well. It's something the kids have been looking forward to. I can remember when a lot of WPIAL teams didn't want to play you.”
Now, they're seeing the WPIAL's best.
“Overall, it's a very positive experience,” Allderdice coach Jeremy Askin said. “The kids get to use great facilities and they're playing top-notch competition.”
Brashear was placed in Section 5-AAAA with Bethel Park, the top-ranked team in the WPIAL. Allderdice joined Section 4-AAAA with four-time WPIAL champion Pine-Richland (which beat the Dragons, 14-0, on Wednesday).
“It's going to be sink or swim,” Geller said.
None has yet to beat a section opponent, but Brashear and Carrick (in Class AAA) each had one-run losses. Allderdice has lost four straight against Quad-A opponents, but a young roster provides the program hope.
“The Allderdice kids aren't used to losing,” Askin said. “They're not used to being the underdog because they dominated the City for so long. So, of course it's tough.”
Not included in the move were Obama Academy, Perry Traditional Academy and Westinghouse, lesser-established programs not quite suited for WPIAL baseball. The three have arranged independent schedules for this season, with games against each other and some nearby WPIAL opponents.
Whether they'll someday join the WPIAL remains undecided, said City League athletic director Mike Gavlik.
“Hopefully, they can continue to grow those programs,” he said.
This transition to the WPIAL had been in the works for years; the City League has now joined the WPIAL in every sport except football and basketball.
“This an opportunity to raise the bar for competition,” Gavlik said.
One emphasis has been trying to preserve the city's longstanding rivalries while creating new ones. Allderdice and Brashear have battled often in the past decade for City League supremacy, including in last spring's championship game. Matchups with suburban schools from the South Hills don't match that tradition.
“What kind of rivalries will develop?” said Geller, who scheduled a nonsection game with Allderdice. “Right now, when you say Upper St. Clair or Bethel Park or Peters, to most of these kids those are one and the same.”
A logistical challenge has been a less-than-ideal arrangement that makes Allderdice play all but one of this year's games on the road. Neither Brashear nor Allderdice had a field that met varsity standards, so they were to share Langley's former field in the West End. But the WPIAL schedule left the two with the same home and away dates.
“It's a good experience for the kids to see the other fields,” Askin said, “but there are some pretty long drives.”
The City schools also have fewer paid coaches, Geller said, with his program having just three spread between varsity and junior varsity.
On the field, pitching has been a challenge. WPIAL games are scheduled closer together than during a typical City League season. Brashear used six pitchers to complete a loss to Canon-McMillan.
“In years past, you might have one ace who could get you through (the season),” Geller said. “With competitive games three or four times a week, you need more top-level pitching.”
“In the City, you might face one good pitcher (per team),” Askin said, “and the other four would be third basemen.”
Allderdice, which won the past five City League titles, has a first-year coach familiar with both the City League and the WPIAL. Askin, a teacher at Allderdice, graduated from Valley in 1993.
“In the past, the City teams would get really excited to play a WPIAL team,” Askin said. “Now they get to play them all the time, so every game's a big game.”