The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 9, 2013

Bursting with pride

Scott Barber, Steve Urchek thrilled to have former players Blair, Easton be drafted

Sports Editor

— Scott Barber and Steve Urchek were both accomplished baseball days during their playing days.

So much so, in fact, they both went on to play at the collegiate level, Barber at Marietta, where he earned conference player of the year honors twice, and Urchek at Division I Kent State University.

But what’s transpired the past few days has the two guys feeling more pride than they did for anything they accomplished as players.

They had two of their players get The Call — aka, be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — on Saturday.

Barber, the coach at his alma mater, Jefferson, had his former star shortstop, Zak Blair, selected in the 20th round by the Chicago Cubs.

Urchek, the longtime coach at Pymatuning Valley until he was unceremoniously run out of the job before this past season, had his former flamethrowing southpaw, Brandon Easton, taken in the 24th round by the Minnesota Twins.

“I was at a baseball game in Youngstown when I got word from Zak,” Barber, a two-time Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year at Jefferson before he headed to Marietta, said. “And when Zak called to tell me himself, it was amazing... I was pretty much stunned.

“I couldn’t even function. I was so full of pride and, of course, just thrilled for Zak.

“I don’t have the words, really.”

Urchek, a self-admitted baseball junkie with connections across the country with scouts, coaches, etc., was on pins and needles.

“We had just gotten back at 12:30 and the draft started at 1,” he said. “I was sitting there, watching for Kent guys, or guys from Ohio State because my buddy is the coach there and then when I saw Zak Blair’s name come across, wow!

“It was a thrill. And then a buddy of mine who is a scout from Houston called me and said, ‘Brandon just got picked by the Twins in the 24th round.’

“I was in shock because it had not even been announced, yet. They must have a faster feed, or something, so I waited a couple minutes before I called Brandon to congratulate him because I figured the Twins had already let him know.”

Turns out, though, that was not the case — Urchek’s call to his former star was the first Easton had heard, of which Easton said, “It was kind of fitting to here it from Steve, first, because he’s done so much for me.”

If Easton thought that was kind of special, consider Urchek.

“That,” he said, pausing as he composed himself, “meant so much to me.

“To know where Brandon had come from as a young man and as a player, to watch him develop into who and what he is now and to be able to be the one to let him know, without that being my intention... I almost don’t have the words.”

To the surprise of no one who knows either Barber or Urchek, this is the highlight of their coaching careers.

“Absolutely, without question,” Barber said of the young man who just graduated from Mercyhurst University with a degree in business administration and will sign his professional contract there today in a special ceremony at noon. “Zak is the best all-around player I’ve ever coached, but that’s not what makes him special.

“The fact he is so humble about his abilities, yet works harder at the game than anyone I’ve ever seen... that’s what makes him special!

“That’s why he’s earned his shot. He deserves this. He’s earned everything he’s achieved and there’s no reason that should stop, now.”

Barber had a chance to share some some time with his pupil, so to speak, Saturday night.

“My whole family went over to Zak’s house,” he said, smile running across his face. “We had such a good time talking about so many things, all the old times.

“To see a guy grow to the young man Zak is, it’s the best reward a coach could have. It was very emotional for me.”

Urchek losing his coaching job after the 2012 season did not sit well with many, including Easton.

“That is just crazy!” he said. “Urch is such a great coach and a great guy. He helps so many, he would help anyone, any time.

“What happened to him is just wrong.”

Urchek, though, has no regrets.

“To see a kid like Brandon, to know how much he’s grown up since I had him, is so amazing,” he said. “It wasn’t always easy for him, and a lot of people wanted me to come down on him and hammer him, but what people forget is, sometimes, that’s not what’s best for the young man.

“In Brandon’s case, he needed us. Yeah, we needed him, too, because every time he took the mound, we have a chance to beat anyone in the state... anyone.

“But in the big picture, as coaches, we are supposed to do what’s best for the kids. Maybe not at that moment, but in the long run... in life.

“(Saturday), was all I needed to know we did things the right way. Even with the way it turned out (losing his coaching job), if this was the result, it was worth it.

“I’d do nothing different and today, Brandon Easton, and Zak Blair, too, have all of us here in Ashtabula County full of pride.”