When Taylor Schmidt and Russell Clark began looking for a competitive summer league, it was only natural they would choose the same team in the same league ... they both had outstanding high school careers, both play baseball for the University of Cincinnati and both started 20 games this past season as freshmen, although Schmidt is a redshirt.
But it wasn't quite planned that way.
"I had no idea [Clark] was going to play for the BlueSox until I saw it on the website over the winter break," Schmidt said.
Although the two may have ended up on Butler's entry in the Prospect League by coincidence, there was no flying under the radar in the eyes of manager Anthony Rebyanski.
"Those two are guys I saw a lot of when I was recruiting at IUP when they were in high school," said Rebyanski, who is in his third year as Butler manager and has been a coach at IUP since 2006. "I like their make-up, I like the way they play the game. They've come in and did what I expected.
"Russ has been very solid behind the plate. He has a big frame to throw to with a very good arm. He keeps guys from running all over us. Schmidty is the same way in the outfield. He plays hard. He tracks balls down and makes plays. Both those guys are just hard-nosed ballplayers who want to be out there every day."
The BlueSox compete in the wooden-bat Prospect League, which comprises players who have at least one year of college experience and have at least one year of college eligibility remaining. The league is made up of 11 teams encompassing five states and each team plays a 60-game regular-season schedule.
"It's a good league," said Clark, a Pine resident who graduated from Pine-Richland High School. "It has a lot of quality baseball players in it. Since this is my first year of playing summer college ball, it's pretty much everything that I expected."
The BlueSox (25-19) play their home games at Pullman Park in Butler, which suits Schmidt just fine.
"I love it," he said. "I played there a little bit in high school so I sort of know how it plays, know the dimensions of it. It's probably one of the biggest outfields I've ever played on. I really enjoy it because it's a challenge for me to see how many balls I can catch and how many hits I can take away in those gaps."
Schmidt has used his speed in the field and at the plate.
A center fielder, Schmidt is batting .299 (40 for 134) through 41 games with 18 runs scored, 3 doubles, 11 RBIs and a league-high 27 stolen bases. A graduate of North Hills High School, Schmidt is showing no signs of a knee injury that cost him his freshman season two years ago at Cincinnati and caused him to redshirt.
"There was a ball hit to the deepest part of the field that I thought was a home run," Rebyanski said. "I don't know how he got to it but he made a back-handed catch at the warning track. With the amount of room that we have here, he's fit in that position very well."
"I came in here with two goals I wanted to accomplish," Schmidt said. "One was to hit over .300 and the other one was to steal more than 40 bases. Those are the two things I really need to do because I really want to get back to being able to steal bases whenever I want to and I need to get my hitting back to the way it was."
Stopping the opposition from stealing bases has been the primary job of Clark, a BlueSox catcher. Due to injuries, Clark has been handling the bulk of the catching duties thus far for the BlueSox and has commanded respect from opposing runners.
"I think I've played pretty well so far," Clark said. "I think I've done a great job defensively catching and still have room to improve on the offensive side of it."
Through 42 games Clark has 5 doubles and 13 RBIs, while batting .234 (32 for 137) with 12 runs scored.
"Russ is pretty good defensively and has a very good arm," Rebyanski said. "He's caught most of our games so far. He's a good catch-and-throw guy. He's very quick with the arm and that makes up for any transfer time."
Although the former WPIAL all-stars may have ended up on the Butler team by coincidence, there is one other thing the two have in common -- both were chosen to represent the BlueSox in the Prospect League All-Star Game Wednesday night at Pullman Park.
Also chosen from Butler were pitchers Adam Aldred and Tyler Ferguson, and infielders Matt Peters and Ryan Fitzgerald.
Rick Davis: email@example.com or 412-263-3789.