ST. MICHAEL – Opening day took on added significance for the St. Michael Saints baseball team on Tuesday.
The Saints played their first game in the Western Pennsylvania Baseball League.
St. Michael also christened the renovated home field, which includes a new artificial turf infield and other amenities as part of a $3.7 million multi-purpose complex that brought improved facilities to Forest Hills High School for football, soccer, softball, baseball and track.
“Awesome,” said St. Michael shortstop Jake Shope said after going 3-for-3 in the Saints’ 6-2 loss to visiting Claysburg.
“Compared to our old field, it feels like a MLB stadium, truthfully. Getting a ground ball in the infield, it’s not going to take a crazy hop. It’s such a relief. Beautiful.”
St. Michael held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 until Claysburg rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh to win its first game in four outings.
“I’ll take these guys to battle any day,” Claysburg manager Dave Aungst said. “I know we’re not an 0-3 team. That’s just the way the luck was going.”
Claysburg received a long relief outing from Dawson Rightenour, who entered in the second inning and pitched the rest of the game, striking out eight and scattering seven hits.
“Heck of an effort from Rightenour,” Aungst said. “We picked him up before we started the season. We knew nothing about him. I’m very impressed. With all the travel ball guys, guys who have been throwing everywhere else, some of our top pitchers weren’t available today.
“He came in and was just outstanding,” Aungst said.
Corey Chamberlain had two hits and two RBIs for Claysburg. St. Michael’s Zach Myers had two hits at the plate and struck out seven batters in five innings on the mound.
The two rival teams are accustomed to facing each other in the Cambria County American Legion League. But the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the American Legion schedules throughout the state. The Western Pennsylvania Baseball League, which includes three divisions, was formed to fill the void.
“That was a typical St. Michael-Claysburg game where we had all kinds of situations happening with early steals, balks, infield up, infield halfway,” St. Michael head coach Matt Gramling said. “It’s tough to handle when it’s the first game, especially after the long break with COVID-19.
“But I thought we played very well up until that last inning. We made too many errors in that last inning.”
Gramling and his father, manager Denny Gramling, have been part of the Saints program for many years. They appreciate the renovated field, which includes the turf infield, an improved sound system, rolled grass outfield and new foul poles. Matt Gramling said plans are to eventually put artificial turf in the outfield.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Matt Gramling said. “I don’t want to talk bad about our old field, but our old field wasn’t the greatest field around. This is a really beautiful field. I really want to thank our school board, our superintendent, Dr. Dave Lehman, and all of our administration at Forest Hills for allowing us to play on this field. They really did a nice job on it.”
A Forest Hills graduate and standout player in both the Johnstown Collegiate Baseball League and the Western Pennsylvania League, Shope agreed.
“Very special to be a part of this,” Shope said. “I love playing with these guys. To be here on this field on opening day is special.”