One final honor: Grain Valley baseball seniors take field a last time
Late Tuesday night, Brian Driskell stood on the mound and threw batting practice. One by one, the seniors stepped up to the plate and got a flurry of swings in against the Grain Valley baseball coach.
A little more than an hour passed in the informal workout and then the Eagles held Senior Night, in a way, around 10 p.m.
Eight seniors gathered at the high school and each of them left the field with a plaque with their uniform numbers and photos of playing for Grain Valley.
They weren’t flanked by their parents and there wasn’t the big ceremony that would happen during a usual senior night in May thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out the season earlier this spring.
Instead, it was a group of about 15 total people on the field.
“It was good closure to see the guys again one last time before we all leave next week,” said senior Seth Dankenbring, who heads to Trenton, Mo., to play for North Central Missouri College. “It was good to get together and back on the field.”
The Eagles had nine seniors – one couldn’t make it because of a family vacation – on the roster and eight of them will play baseball next year in college. The talent level was one that Driskell hadn’t seen during his tenure at Grain Valley.
The future college players include: Dankenbring; Jacob Misiorowski (Crowder College); Mason Rogers (Metropolitan Community College); Trent Flake (Avila); Caden Matlon (Johnson County Community College); Max Chapman (Wichita State); Deryk Carey (Hannibal-LaGrange) and Josh Kilpatrick (Avila). Rhett Smith will bypass baseball and become an electrician.
“I’m not sure if I will ever have – from top to bottom – as deep and talented a group as this,” Driskell said. “There may be a team that wins more, but the talent here is crazy. I never had a group so talented but so close together. It is like a bunch of college buddies in high school. They get along so well.”
The senior class reached the district finals as juniors and heading into the final this season this spring had a combined 61-26 record in high school. The Eagles’ seniors lost only two games at their home field the first three seasons.
Hopes were high for the team and others around the state saw that as the team received votes in the preseason Missouri State High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 5 poll.
“I will be thinking about this season forever,” said Misiorowski, who switched his commitment from Oklahoma State to Crowder College prior to the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. “We had a shot at state, it felt like. We had a good team. We had pitching. That was the main thing we were missing and we finally found it.”
The right-hander with a fastball in the 90s flipped from D-I to junior college a few weeks into the downtime that followed the start of the quarantine period. He built a relationship with Crowder pitching coach Jason Immekus and head coach Travis Lallemand.
Misiorowski looked at the program that has sent 15 players to Division I colleges the past two years and two others into pro baseball, including Park Hill graduate Aaron Ashby, who was a fourth-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.
“They have a track record of developing pitchers, not just having pitchers,” Misiorowski said. “It was one of those things you look into the future instead of right now. I could go anywhere but I have the opportunity to get that developing aspect (at Crowder).”
The success and closeness of this Grain Valley team can be traced back to a traveling team called the Warthogs more than a dozen years ago, coached by Dankenbring’s father. Other players from Grain Valley were Matlon, Chapman, Flake and Misiorowski, who was a catcher on that team.
“It was my first team. We all started at machine pitch all the way to 13U; we’ve been together forever,” Misiorwoski said. “We have so much chemistry and we know each other. You can trust the guys behind you in the middle infield, like Seth making a diving play. I knew he’d get it because I have played with him for so long.”
The plan for the final practice was developed a few weeks ago in Warrensburg, as Driskell attended the Grain Valley High School graduation at the University of Central Missouri.
He talked to some of the players to pitch the idea to them and they were all for it. The original plan was last week, but a deluge of rain called off the first scheduled date.
“We hadn’t been on the field for a few days before the shutdown and I wanted to give them an opportunity to get out here one more time,” Driskell said. “It is a special place for them and we had a lot of fun. This is a really special group for me.”