TJ Staton has staked his claim as one of the greatest baseball players in the history of Lorain County.
The Elyria West graduate was drafted and played professionally for a dozen years, was named Ohio’s high school player of the year in 1993 and was a member of the county’s lone state championship team.
For his efforts, Staton will be inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday with Elyria Catholic’s Mike Kozma and Dr. David Krol, Elyria High’s Jesse Verhoff and Tim Sweigard and the 1964 EHS football team. Jim Tomsic will receive the Distinguished Service award.
Staton began playing baseball at age 8 for Little League South, then played for Little League West when his family moved across town.
He also played for the Elyria Classy Chariots team in Hot Stove, and eventually put together two of the greatest high school seasons the Wolverines program had ever seen.
“He was the only player that I ever coached that got drafted,” former Elyria West coach Tom Kubuski said. “They clocked him during his sophomore year at 93 (mph). Things just sort of took off from there.
“He was just a dominant force. He threw hard … I mean, hard. A lot of opposing batters would prefer to take the strikeout than get hit with the ball.”
Kubuski said Staton still held virtually every pitching record when Elyria West closed in 1996. Staton went 22-7 with 366 strikeouts during his high school career, and had ERAs of 1.66 as a freshman, 0.97 as a sophomore, 1.39 as a junior and 0.30 as a senior.
Staton’s prowess on the mound was highlighted during the 1992 state semifinals when Elyria West beat Steubenville 2-1 in 11 innings. Staton eventually had to be pulled from the game due to OHSAA rules limiting the amount of innings a pitcher can throw in a game.
“He owned the record, and I’m not sure if he still does, for the number of strikeouts in a state tournament game with 15 during that game,” Kubuski said. “I went back after the game and counted his pitches and he threw like 170-some in that semifinal. That was before we worried about things like pitch counts.”
Many fans barely recall Staton’s exploits on the mound, as it was his performances at the plate that seemed to drop more jaws and were the reason the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 10th round of the MLB Draft.
Staton batted .333 as a freshman, .377 as a sophomore, .392 during the state championship season and .478 as a senior. The big bat coupled with the miniscule ERA made him an easy pick for the state’s player of the year award in 1993.
Staton finished with 95 RBIs, 17 home runs (a school record), 10 triples and 78 runs scored.
Kubuski said the numbers don’t come close to telling the story of Staton’s power at the plate.
“When he’d come up, our first base coach would go hide in the dugout,” Kubuski said. “He hit those hard liners that you didn’t have time to see coming.”
Former Elyria West teammate Adrian Peyton said they had to alter the field because of Staton.
“The last two years at Elyria West they had to add a fence down the right-field line just because he hit the ball so far that they’d spend too much time arguing whether the ball was fair or foul,” said Peyton, who was the Wolverines second baseman during the championship season.
Despite the rocket arm and explosive bat, Staton said it was a fielding play while at first base during the 1992 state championship game that provided one of the top memories from his high school career.
“They tried to bunt down the first-base line and I remember I ended up diving for the ball,” Staton said. “They were trying a squeeze play and I ended up doubling the guy up at third base. That was a big moment that really stood out for me as far as defensively, making a play behind someone else.”
It was a big play for the team, too.
“It was the turning point in the ballgame,” Kubuski said. “We had a 2-0 lead and Marlington had tied it with nobody out and had the bases loaded. They popped it up down the first-base line and he came in, went to his knees and caught it. From his knees, he threw a one-hopper to third base where the shortstop was covering and we doubled the man. The next ball was a fly to right and we got out of it with no more damage.
“It was certainly a play that not everyone can make. It’s a long throw after throwing 170-some pitches the day before.”
Staton said winning Elyria West’s first state championship and the county’s lone state baseball title was a great moment, but he and the rest of the team were able to get the job done because of their comfort level in the situation.
“It was special, but a lot of us played in the summer together and we had won state championships before, we had won back-to-back-to-back state championships in Hot Stove,” Staton said. “It felt different, but it also felt like we had been there before. You’re pretty much facing some of the same players that you faced in Hot Stove. That was the big travel ball league in Ohio back then.”
As the years have rolled by, Staton said he’s gained more of an appreciation for what the Wolverines were able to accomplish that season.
“It’s definitely an honor to hear about the years and all the (county) teams that have competed … it’s crazy,” he said. “Just looking at some of the great teams that played before and some that played behind us, for my team to accomplish what we did … it’s still and always going to be an honor.”
Then came professional baseball and Staton was off around the country earning a living playing the sport he’d loved since he was a young boy. He said his years in the minor leagues were some of the best of his life.
“Who wouldn’t mind having themselves on a bubble gum card?” he said with a laugh. “You always dreamed of playing professional baseball, but once it started really happening it was unbelievable. I had fun.
“The ups were you’d wake up in the morning and be able to call yourself a professional athlete. The downs were the injuries. Once I was ready to start really stamping my name to the game, injuries started occurring. There was nothing I could really do about that … injuries happen.”
After his playing days ended, Staton couldn’t say goodbye to the sport. He eventually married Saunjula, and they had son TJ, 13, and daughter Amaya, 12, before he began a company in Lorain — Staton’s Sports — that allows young athletes to come and train. Various sports teams and players use the facility, but Staton continues to coach and train the baseball players that walk through his door.
“He’s very passionate and he talks to the kids at the level they are at,” said Peyton, who helps Staton coach in the Amherst minor division. “He’s hands on and isn’t afraid to show them what he’s trying to teach them.
“I pull the kids aside and tell them, ‘That’s hard work, that’s dedication. You’re being coached by someone who’s been there. He’s got experience, he’s got the rings, he’s got the stats.’”
Now he also has the Hall of Fame credentials.
If You Go:
WHAT: 43rd Elyria Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet
WHEN: Saturday, social hour at 5 p.m.
WHERE: Spitzer Center, Lorain County Community College
TICKETS: $35. Deadline is today. Available online at elyriasportshalloffame.org using PayPal or by contacting Linda Schuster at Elyria Catholic at firstname.lastname@example.org or 365-6390 ext. 120.