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Summer team has local feel

Cody Thorn
Special to The Examiner
Brothers Jake, left, and Jeremy Lufft, both Blue Springs High School graduates, pose before the 2018 Ban Johnson League All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. This season, Jeremy was the manager for the North Kansas City Apartments Giants, while Jake played and was among the league leaders in hitting.

The North Kansas City Apartments Giants finished as one of the hottest teams in the Ban Johnson League this summer.

After a 1-9 start to the season, the Giants closed out an abbreviated season with a 9-13 mark under the guidance of first-year manager Jeremy Lufft, a Blue Springs High School graduate. At one point, the Giants won eight games in a row.

“I enjoyed playing more,” said Lufft, who was assisted by his father, Tom this summer. “It was definitely a lot different coaching each game. You’ve got to write lineups – have to match up and put the best nine players out. If a lefty is out there, you have to get less lefties in your lineup. Also, the other thing is umpires. I have to lay off the umpires. Me playing, I would talk back to the umpire. Now that I’m coaching, I can see our players talking to the umpire. They will be against us, not in favor of us. One of the big adjustments was discipline at the plate, not being (a jerk) to the umpires.

“I enjoyed it (coaching) and will definitely do it again next year.”

The team had a very Eastern Jackson County look to it with players from Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit.

Lufft, the Ban Johnson League MVP in 2018, brought in his younger brother, Jake, also a Blue Springs graduate who is an infielder at State Fair Community College in Sedalia. The two were both part of the Giants roster in the summer of 2018 – the final one for Lufft, who is now 24.

Fellow former Blue Springs players Andrew Garry, Ray Paniagua and C.J. July also were on this year’s roster, as well Brett Baker and Nic Mertes from Blue Springs South, Tanner Yeisley from Lee’s Summit North and Aidan Satterfield and Clayton Medlin from Summit Christian Academy.

“I hadn’t seen a couple of guys since high school so it was good to catch up with old faces and keep those friendships alive,” said Jake Lufft, who flirted with a .400 average with a week left in the season in late July. “It was enjoyable playing with old friends and becoming friends with the new guys. It’s all about having fun.”

Jake Lufft’s .367 batting was eighth in the Ban Johnson League, while his .600 slugging percentage was ninth overall. He did better at the plate this summer compared to his 24-game span at State Fair, where he hit .263 with 20 hits. Of those 20, 11 were for extra bases – seven doubles, one triple and three home runs. He was second on the team in home runs and third in RBIs with 19. On the mound, the right-handed hurler was 1-1 with 1.00 ERA and three saves in seven games.

Jake Lufft was a starter as well for the Giants, going 1-4 in four starts and a 3.89 ERA. Of the 20 runs allowed, 11 were earned – and three of his loses came during the team’s early season struggles.

He closed the year with two quality starts – two earned runs in 13 innings – and struck out a season-high seven in a July 22 game versus the Milgram Mustangs. Lufft, however, took the loss in that 3-1 setback by giving up two unearned runs in six innings.

Last summer he played for the Sedalia Bombers in the MINK League, but once he learned his brother and dad were going to go coach in the Ban Johnson he decided to return to a league he played in after his senior year of high school — a year when he made the All-Star Game.

“It was enjoyable and it was a little weird because I’m an adult and I have my brother and dad coaching me,” Jake Lufft said. “It was fun. … it was interesting, but I got used to it.”

Medlin, who pitches at Rockhurst University, was one of four all-stars from the Giants last year in the Ban Johnson League, which won’t hold its traditional all-star game at Kauffman Stadium. He led the Giants in innings pitched (37), games (11), starts (5), wins (3), ERA (2.64) and WHIP (1.135).

The right-hander was one of the first players recruited by Jeremy Lufft to join the team – aside from his brother. Medlin, Mertes and July all played for Rockhurst this year and are set to return to the NCAA Division II school.

Paniagua (Kansas City Kansas) and Garry (Pratt) were both at junior colleges in Kansas this spring, while Yeisley played at NAIA Avila. The anomaly of that group is Satterfield, who just recently graduated from SCA. He was one of only a handful of players in the league who were in high school when this year started. Giants teammate Rhett Spell (Platte County) and Harper Beattie (East Buchanan) were other 2020 graduates.

“It has really been an experience,” said Satterfield, who has signed to play at Evangel University in Springfield. “I had been playing with kids my same age since … forever, I guess. So to play with a lot of 23- and 24-year-olds, it has been nice. You can see what they have accomplished in baseball, and before I go off to school they have given me a lot of advice on their experiences.”

Last summer, Satterfield was playing for the Mac-n-Seitz Black Sox and noted the competition this year in the Ban Johnson League – where each team seemingly had one Division I player on the roster – is a little different than Class 3 baseball.

“It has been a big step up, I went to a pretty small high school and I didn’t face good arms other than summer ball,” he said. “Here we face guys in the 90s, which is kind of new to me, but it is good to see and get used to it. At first in games I was timid, especially at the plate. I just came to realize it was not much different, so I started doing a lot better.”

He had hits in three of his first six games but really turned on his performance in the latter half of the season for the Giants. The center fielder saw his average dip to .217 at one point, but closed the year 5-for-5 to finish with a .313 average.

That was third on the team behind Will Morris (.372) and Jake Lufft (.367).

“You can definitely tell the gap between the guys that will be seniors in college and the guys that will be freshmen in college,” Jeremy Lufft said. “There is a huge difference in size, skill, experience. Aidan really showed out. He wasn’t in the lineup every day at the beginning of the season but then he started to hit the ball. He was a great No. 9 hole. He’d walk, he’d get on base, anything you have to do. He was quick in the outfield and he deserved the starting spot at the end of the season.”

Unlike most of his summer teammates, Satterfield didn’t get to play any games at all this spring. The collegiate teammates all got to play at least a dozen games, if not more, before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered spring sports in March.

“I didn’t think I would get to play at all this summer,” Satterfield said. “I didn’t get my school season and a lot of these college guys got 15 to 17 games in … I was really jealous of them. I didn’t expect much out of this summer (because of COVID) but it was good to be playing again.”

Blue Springs South graduate Nic Mertes catches for the North Kansas City Apartments Giants in this summer's Ban Johnson League. Mertes was one of several players from Eastern Jackson County to play for the Giants under Jeremy Lufft, the Blue Springs grad in his first season as the head coach.