The Norman Transcript
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.
“It’s just been amazing,” Schreiber said. “It’s going to be just like next year in the dorms. All of us together, just like we are with the host family. It’s perfect. We all get to see each other pitch and he (Birkbeck) gets to find out from the coach (Mielcarek) how we all did collectively.”
Almost as important, they get a chance to get to know each other on and off the diamond.
“We are getting along well,” Schreiber said. “Perfect. Eli is very talkative and we like that. He knows what to say all the time. Zach is kind of quiet, but me and him are rooming together. I think that will be a great time.”
Kraus saw the possibilities of this being a great experience early on.
“It’s cool,” Kraus said. “We’ve known each other for a couple of months since both of them committed. We actually ended up rooming together down here, so we are kind of looking at what the future is going to be like. It’s pretty cool, I thought. I wanted to get that experience down. I think it’s a good start to what we’re going to be doing in the future.”
The Golden Flashes are coming off a 36-23 record and made it to the regional round of the NCAA tournament. Willeman, Schreiber and Kraus hope to help the team improve upon that next season.
But no matter what happens in the future, the trio say they will remember their summer excursion or to Oklahoma as the beginning what they hope is a great career together.
“Knowing they are going to be my teammates, it’s going to be a great time next year at Kent,” Willeman said. “Hopefully we go out there and dominate. Coach Birkbeck is a great guy. He knows his stuff. He’s going to get us better and hopefully get us to the big leagues some day. We will always look back at these memories and remember them and see how great they were.”
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