Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Austin Schroeder continues to be an inspiration more than three years after his death at the age of 15.
That was apparent on Saturday at Banks Field as the fourth annual “Fight with Flash Crosstown Classic” matched six local high school baseball teams in a tripleheader as a tribute to Schroeder.
It was the kind of environment that Schroeder, whose nickname was Flash due to his speed, would have loved because he absolutely loved playing baseball, and sports in general.
Schroeder grew up playing baseball with many of the same high school kids who withstood the oppressive heat on Saturday to honor his legacy and raise money to fight pediatric cancer.
His battle against cancer inspired the community and has left a lasting impression. Schroeder died in late April 2015, but his memory and his legacy will live on forever, thanks to events like Saturday’s baseball tournament.
“This is awesome,” said Austin’s father, Craig Schroeder. “The amount of support by the coaches and by the fans in this community, the schools, it’s just unreal that they want to continue to support this and allow us to put on three baseball games.
“It was Flash’s favorite sport that he liked to play, and he played with all of these guys, not just from West. It’s just a wonderful feeling.”
This year marked the first time that six teams played in the fundraiser as Liberty High School and Clear Creek Amana both joined a lineup that already included West High, City High, Solon and Regina.
Austin Schroeder would have been a senior on the West High baseball team this summer, so there was extra incentive for the West High players to perform well on Saturday and freshman Marcus Morgan certainly did that.
The younger brother of former West High basketball star Jeremy Morgan allowed just two hits over six innings as the Trojans defeated Regina 6-0 in the third game.
“It was a special night to come out and get a unique opportunity to thrown on this fantastic field and just have fun doing it and compete,” said Morgan, who finished with nine strikeouts and zero walks. “I love hanging out with the guys.”
Austin Schroeder used to be one of the guys, and still is in many ways.
His death devastated the West High community because Austin was so well liked and so young. He had enormous potential on and off the baseball field, but more than anything, he had friends who admired and respected him and a family that cared for him dearly.
Morgan was one of just two non-seniors to start for West High on Saturday and head coach Charlie Stumpff thinks that was a powerful motivator.
“I think he probably felt it because this was like a second Senior Night for us,” Stumpff said. “Everybody in the lineup except Marcus and (Jason) Strunk were seniors. They were all teammates of Austin and they always want to represent that memory and do the right thing.”
The day started with Liberty High defeating Clear Creek Amana 6-3 in the first game as sophomore second baseman Tyler Daum led the way with three hits, including an inside-the-park home run.
City High then edged Solon 6-5 in the second game despite not scoring any earned runs. The Spartans committed eight errors, including four in the first inning.
And while there is no such thing as a good loss, the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s three games were a reminder that losing a baseball game is really not a big deal compared to life’s tragedies.
“None of them are easy, but the day was great,” said Regina head coach Jeff Pacha. “They always do a really good job, everybody in the organization. It’s all planned out real well.
“The festivities are fun, but the outcome not so much. But that’s baseball.”
The three games were just part of the festivities on Saturday.
One of the neater moments came when all six teams gathered in centerfield after the second game and performed the Wave as a tribute to the patients in the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
That tradition started with Iowa fans performing the Wave at the end of the first quarter of football games last fall at Kinnick Stadium.
It has since swept the nation and become a symbol of love and support for those children who are less fortunate.
A young female cancer patient also threw out the first pitch before the start of the third game.
“To be able to do our own mini-wave to the hospital, hopefully, to these guys who played today, it was a lot more than just baseball,” Craig Schroeder said. “And that’s all that we can hope for is to continue to give back to this hospital and those kids up there.
“And if there are some kids up there that for a few minutes just felt like, hey, that’s cool, those guys are down there playing baseball and they’re taking time out and they’re thinking about me and they’re fighting for me and supporting me, it just helps us, obviously, just win the day today.”
“Win the day” is a phrase that Austin Schroeder used as inspiration during his courageous battle against cancer.
Others now use it as motivation in their lives.
Morgan said he was determined to compete at the highest level because Austin Schroeder was such a competitor.
Hearing what Marcus said didn’t come as a surprise to Craig Schroeder.
“I was able to actually coach Marcus for a couple years and he is an unbelievable player and he is a great kid,” said Craig Schroeder. “And he is just a great competitor.
“And it’s awesome to watch him because he is just so smooth in everything he does.”
Craig was accompanied on Saturday by his wife and two children. His son Cody is a freshman on the Liberty High team.
The fact that this would have been Austin’s senior year adds to the emotion.
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Craig Schroeder said. “To see all of these kids that he played with, but it’s because they’re seniors and we know that this would be his last year and his team and he’s be out there competing himself and playing.
“It’s bittersweet at the same time for us. We miss seeing all of these kids’ faces as I have a boy who just finished his freshman year at Liberty. We’re at a different school and we’re still trying to get to as many (West High) games as we can because that was his team and those are all of his best friend. And we miss the families.
“Everything that we do now, it’s a little harder, but you know what, that emotion connects us with Austin and that’s all we look for every single day is a connection with Austin.”