New Catholic Central baseball coach Nick Wagner would admit he’s still adapting to running his own program for the first time, but he’s always been confident in his knowledge of the game — especially when it comes to giving pitchers what they need to know.
There’s probably not a situation they’ll face that he hasn’t been through himself.
The 34-year-old Springfield North High School grad had a successful career as a Georgia Tech reliever and was drafted in the 28th round by the Tampa Bay Rays.
He played two years in high Class A for the Midwest League franchise now known as the Great Lakes Loons and notched his only win as a pro in 2005 on the road against the Dayton Dragons.
It was a surprise start that came after a rain delay, and he didn’t have much time to get the word out.
“It was so late, I think just my family was there. It was one of those things where I said, ‘Oh, shoot, I’m pitching in two hours. Who can I get to come?’ It’s not like I knew going into it,” he said.
He doesn’t remember his pitching line, though playing in sold-out Fifth Third Field left an impression.
“Dayton always gets a good crowd. Where we played, we’d get 400 or 500 a game. Anytime you played Dayton, it was special,” he said.
After leaving baseball because of injuries, he returned to his hometown and was a high school assistant the last 10 years under Rob Cassell at Springfield and Shawnee, focusing mostly on pitchers.
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The Irish job came open when previous coach and longtime friend Jon Metzger became the school’s athletic director. And Wagner is charged up about getting the gig.
“Some aspects are more stressful that I thought they’d be … but having full control, I love it. I don’t care who you are or how well you get along with the coaches, you always have your own ideas,” said Wagner, who is being assisted by Metzger and former Wittenberg player Preston Snodgrass.
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The challenging part has been getting a full squad together. The official start of practice was Feb. 19, but only five freshmen showed up. The rest were on the Irish basketball team that made a deep tourney run.
He finally had his complete team of 13 players on March 18 — and he likes what he’s seen so far.
Central, which finished 6-12 in 2017, has two returning first-team All-Ohio Heritage Conference players in seniors Deece Catanzaro and Dominic DeWitt.
Catanzaro, who batted .538 last year, will be the catcher, while DeWitt (.393) plays short stop. They’re also the top two starting pitchers.
Senior Gunnar Weaver will play second and shift to short top when DeWitt pitches. Freshman left-hander Andrew DeWitt will play first base, center-field and pitch while batting lead-off. And sophomore John Kennedy will bat second and also play all over the field.
The other spots are still up for grabs. Because of the late start, the Irish opener was pushed back to April 2.
“I went into it with the open mind that the best nine people will play,” Wagner said. “I don’t really care what they’ve done in the past. I wanted to give everyone a fresh start.”
Most Irish players compete in multiple sports, and the roster keeps evolving.
“We have a few guys playing tennis who said they might play,” Wagner said. “It seems like every day someone else shows up and says they want to give it a try. It’s a lot different than what I’m used to.”
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