Love of game inspires Kiski Valley player
BUTLER — Kiski Valley American Legion coach Dennis Montgomery was painting the bleachers at Freeport Park last week when something caught his eye.
His shortstop, Ricky Francart, was playing ball nearby with a group of buddies. Only it was wiffle ball — a childhood game that uses a plastic bat and ball.
"It's clear this kid just loves the game above and beyond the norm," Montgomery said. "The only time most kids pick up a bat is when it's game time. Not this kid. He enjoys every minute, even when he's not in an organized scenario."
Francart gets another chance in a much more formal setting today, playing in the American Legion All-West All-Star game today at Pullman Park in Butler. The soon-to-be senior at Freeport High School joins Lower Burrell pitcher Dave Yakopec and two players from Springdale Legion — outfielder Donnie Sippel and first baseman A.J. Healy.
All four advanced through two rounds of tryouts to get this far. The top players in the All-West game will advance to the Pennsylvania American Legion All-Star game July 25 in Harrisburg.
"It's nice to get my name out there and come up the ranks a little bit," said Francart, who has played in the shadow of high school teammate and pro prospect Ryan Siegel. "We really didn't do much hitting the first two rounds. A lot of it's based on your glove and speed. If you can do both, you're going to get through. I've been working a lot to get past this (round) and on to Harrisburg."
Sippel and Healy both batted around .400 for Springdale, which garnered the final playoff spot out of the Allegheny River League. The two will be entering their senior year at Fox Chapel High School.
Though just finishing his sophomore year at Burrell High School, the 6-foot-3 Yakopec is making no bones about exhibiting his mid-80s fastball at various exhibitions this summer.
A left-hander, he advanced to the All-West final despite playing only playing a handful of games with his Legion team due to other baseball commitments.
"I'm playing for a lot of other teams, so it's a little bit weird," Yakopec said. "I think it was very important to make it as a pitcher because when they see me in the All-West game, they're going to know I'm a good enough pitcher. Every step of the tryouts, the players get better and better. I'm expecting this competition to be the best yet."
As for Francart, he's barely garnered much attention beyond a quiet reputation as a fine glove man up the middle. Now is his time to shine, even if the balls and bats aren't plastic this time.
"Actually, me and my dad have been working on hitting with the little plastic golf balls," he said. "Baseball has pretty much been my life lately - and I don't mind any of it."