NORMAN — All-Star teams are not the normal place people look to find camaraderie. With 15 to 20 athletes coming from different schools and regions, finding common ground is not always simple.
But for three members of Team Ohio, reaching a mutual understanding was rather easy for coach Jeff Mielcarek. All he had to do was make a phone call.
Zach Willeman, John Schreiber and Eli Kraus are all pitchers for Team Ohio who have signed to play baseball at Kent State University next season.
“This is unique,” Mielcarek said. “And quite honestly, the credit for this goes to the Kent State pitching coach (Mike Birkbeck). I called him. He’s the one that helped me to encourage them that the Heartland was a great opportunity for them to play. Without him we may have gotten one or two. But not all three.”
While Birkbeck gets the credit for getting the trio of hurlers to play in the Heartland Classic, it didn’t take much convincing.
“I found out a couple of weeks ago,” Willeman said. “We all texted each other and asked if we were playing for Team Ohio and found we were playing together. We decided we wanted to room together down here. It worked out perfectly.”
Willeman is the tallest of the three and the only right-handed pitcher. He played his high school baseball at Napoleon. Kraus and Schreiber gave him the nickname Z-Willey.
Schreiber hails from Mayfield High. He and Willeman will be roommates at KSU.
Kraus is a southpaw who played at Buckeye High. The future journalism major gave a quick description of his teammates’ talents.
“Both are studs,” Kraus said. “John has filthy off-speed and Zach throws 95. What more could you ask for from incoming freshmen?”
Playing in the Heartland Classic seems to be the ideal scenario for not only the players, but also their future pitching coach.