By Omar Soussi
For most young athletes, organized, competitive play pretty much ends when they receive their high school diploma. Dreams of one day playing on the college level or becoming a professional ball player grow dim and eventually fade.
Three former Marcos de Niza baseball players, alongside their former high school coach, however, lived that dream over the summer months. You might even say they hit it out of the ballpark when they took part in the National Baseball Congress’ 84thannual World Series during July and August. It was the first time in its history four players from the Marcos program participated in the event and for the school’s head baseball coach Steve Schuck, it was glorious.
The National Baseball Congress has the top college, Major League Baseball prospects and former minor and major league players competing on teams throughout their summer season that play to earn a spot in the World Series.
Pitcher Craig Knoche, a 2014 Marcos grad who plays for Oklahoma City University, sported the Wellington Heat jersey. Class of 2016 pitcher Giovanni Nieves of Bethel University played for the National Junior College Athletic Association National Team. Finally, both class of 2017 pitcher Conner Woods (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and Schuck were on the Santa Barbara Foresters.
Woods said via email it was “surreal” that three of them were able to compete at the tournament and Schuck, who served as associate coach for the Foresters, said via email he was proud to see his players make it that far.
“I was so proud to watch my guys out there battling in one of the biggest baseball tournaments in the country, personally knowing the hard work and sacrifice that went into their game,” Schuck said. “The joy that I experienced seeing Padres, and former teammates, doing what they love and competing is indescribable.”
For Woods, playing for Schuck once again throughout the season was something he’ll never forget.
“Coach Schuck, throughout high school, was a person I always looked up to and I credit him in helping me be the player I am today,” Woods said. “It was a special opportunity to have him there coaching throughout this summer and NBC event.”
Two of the former Padres faced off in the finals with it being Woods’ and Schuck’s Foresters against Nieves’ NJCAA National team. It was a close game but the Foresters were able to pick up the 6-5 win, giving Schuck his third NBC World Series championship.
“This one felt different being able to share it with a former player,” Schuck said. “Being able to coach one of my former players in this arena was a gift. Most coaches never get a chance to reunite with a former player.”
After spending the summer watching Woods, Schuck reflected on the rare opportunity. “I was fortunate to be with Conner all summer. I watched him work his tail off, day in and day out, and was able to be there to celebrate the fruits of his labor with him,” Schuck said. “For Conner to get a ring is a tremendous feeling. I feel like a proud papa.”
Each of the three players put in plenty of hard work and effort to make it and after a tough fight to semi-finals and the championship round, Schuck said he tips his hat at the three men for competing in the tournament, especially Giovanni and Craig.
“They performed like warriors in this tournament and I know how it feels to just miss out on the goal,” Schuck said. “It hurt to see them so down after their last game. On the positive, all three are living their dream, playing the greatest sport in the world.”