John Vilevac probably thought he would never again see Butler-Rodman Park in Alliance after the Grafton Panthers, the team on which he played, won an Ohio Hot Stove baseball championship in 1986.
A quarter of a century later, Vilevac returned, this time as a coach of his son’s team, the Grafton Midview Mayhem. Jonathan Vilevac played the outfield for the Mayhem, the champions of the Lorain Regional Class HH division.
The result was the same. Vilevac’s team won a state championship, as the Mayhem defeated the Sebring VFW 17-7 on Sunday.
Not much had changed, according to the older Vilevac. The park looked pretty much the same as he’d remembered it.
“I got the goosebumps,” he said of his reaction to seeing the place after 25 years.
The Vilevacs might not have to wait so long to get another glimpse of the venue. The Panthers won the Class E title — with John named the Thurman Munson Award winners as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Class E is the division for the oldest players. The state championship game was the last Hot Stove game John Vilevac, 17 years old at the time, could have played.
Jonathan and the Mayhem won the title in Class HH, the division for the youngest ballplayers. With seven divisions in Hot Stove, Jonathan has six more chances to play on a repeat champion.
And how much did dad talk about his team’s state championship?
“Only during the tournament,” Jonathan said. “He didn’t talk much to the team. He just talked to me mostly.”
Jonathan insisted his father’s trips down memory lane never got boring. Talking to John Vilevec one gets the idea that he has taken a liking to teaching the game to youngsters.
“I was a pitcher, so I get to work with the pitchers,” John said. “The other coaches (Bob Sanders, the manager, Dave English and Graig Bansek) have their areas. Jonathan gets taken care of by Graig or Bobby. We’re all in charge of certain players.”
“I’m enjoying coaching, yes,” John said. “The kids are the same way as I remember. Coaches are the same. The one thing that’s different with this team is the parents and fans. Coaching your own kids can be a little bit of a challenge, but this isn’t a typical team. Everyone is involved. It’s all positive.”
Success might have something to do with that. The Mayhem have yet to lose. They won 26 games this summer. The same 12 players who made up this year’s club were on the team last year, before they could play in tournaments, and went 20-0.
Despite running the table as 8-year-olds, John Vilevac wasn’t thinking about a trip to Alliance right out of the gate.
“After a few games, that was when I started thinking that maybe they could be there,” he said.
And when the final out was recorded at approximately 2 o’clock, and after the requisite eruptions of joy and the picture taking, the team went to dinner at a nearby Applebee’s. That was something that was different from John’s team’s championship.
“We ended our game so late we didn’t have time to stop anywhere,” John said. “It was after 6 when we started. We were traveling in the dark. We didn’t get back to Grafton until about midnight.”
The elder Vilevac was also sure it wasn’t nearly as hot in 1986 as it was this past weekend, when the temperatures went north of 90 degrees both days.
“The parents kept everyone wiped down with wet towels,” John said. “They provided squirt bottles. We kept the kids as cool as possible.”
Jonathan insisted he didn’t even notice the heat, shaking his head when asked if it had any effect on players.
John Vilevac added that the Grafton Panthers held a 25th reunion, with 10 players from the ’86 team meeting in New London.
“I had not been back to Butler-Rodman Park in 25 years,” he said. “I’m glad this team won it on the first try. Winning it the first time out let’s them know what’s needed to win again.”
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.