The Northwestern Wildcats varsity baseball team finished out the regular season this week at 7-3 in Region play, putting them in second place behind Fairview.
The Wildcats will host Sharon in the first round of the District 10 playoffs at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 23, at home.
Before the official start of the playoffs, though, the team will host a pre-playoff tune-up scrimmage versus General McLane at 8 p.m. this Friday, May 20, under the lights at Northwestern’s John Light Field, also known as “The Lighthouse. “
Head coach Craig Miller said Northwestern’s baseball facility has come a long way since John Light took over as head coach about 20 years ago. Miller was a senior on the Northwestern baseball team during Light’s first season.
“John always said to keep baseball relevant, you have to make sure the guys look good, meaning, have nice uniforms; have a nice facility and field; and you have to be able to teach them something,” said Miller, who is now in his second season as head coach.
Miller said games used to be played at Albion Borough Park. Former coaches including high school Principal Dan Shreve and Light, along with baseball boosters, the school and the community, collaborated to move the field to its permanent location behind Northwestern Elementary School more than 20 years ago. Since then, it’s evolved into a fully-equipped facility.
Major drainage lines were installed. The field is one of just two in Erie County that has lights for night games (Corry is the other). Crews work hard to keep the grass thick, the field level and the pitcher’s mound pristine.
“John taught me years ago that one of the big reasons people love coming here is because of our mound,” Miller said. “Pitchers become managers of landscaping a lot of times, and in ours, you don’t have to worry about any of that.”
Light retired from coaching in 2014, and the field was named after him.
Last fall a visitor’s bullpen was installed and volunteers extended the warning track. An additional entrance was also added to the home dugout.
Miller said the boosters have done a phenomenal job this year helping the team get equipment that helps them practice more efficiently, including a new pitching machine and portable batting cage.
“We’ve become an ambassador for baseball in Erie County,” Miller said. “People from different schools, umpires, they love coming here because of the shape we keep the field in. The boys know that they’re not part of a baseball program that doesn’t put in the time and effort to make their facility great.”
Miller said coaches, parents, players and other volunteers have put in thousands and thousands of hours on the field.
The additions and upgrades certainly helped Eugeniu Sinchevici, Northwestern’s foreign exchange student from Moldova – who never played the game before this spring.
“We don’t have baseball. It’s an American sport,” Sinchevici said. “At the beginning, I couldn’t even throw a ball, catch a ball – nothing.”
Sinchevici said he now loves the sport. He said his favorite memory on the Northwestern diamond was senior night – where he was honored as a senior, even though he’s a junior.
“This year has been fun – our chemistry amongst our boys is better, and parents of younger kids are stepping up to help. Everyone’s participating,” Miller said. “It’s been a real family deal this year.”
Senior Kyler Fawcett, who has been playing baseball since little league, said he’s not sure what his favorite home field memory is. He said with the upcoming playoff action to be held at home, he may not have had it yet.
“This field has always been taken care of – it’s probably one of the best, if not the best, in the area to play on,” Fawcett said.