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For the love of the game: Older Twilight League players have to balance work, family with baseball

figueroaPhotos by Gabe Mink -- Arturo Figueroa swings at a pitch Wednesday, July 20 vs. Linglestown at the high school field. He is the oldest player on the Middletown team at age 41. His 17-year-old son is also on the squad.

By Gabe Mink
For the Press And Journal

At a time when people will follow their phones to catch the latest fad, there are still places where people pursue things that have stood the test of time — things like the game of baseball.

The East Shore Twilight League offers this opportunity to players to pursue their passion.
These players’ dedication to the game and to their team does not come from the promise of a paycheck. It comes from a lifelong passion for the game of baseball, a passion that every player holds, no matter their age, background or family life.  

According to Adrian Huber, who has been the Middletown team manager for eight years, the ages of the players on the team can vary.

“There are four (players) that are freshman in college. One or two are seniors in college. The majority of the team is just out of college. Then there’s three or four of us that are 30, 33. One of them is 41” he said.

The 41-year-old player is Arturo Figueroa, who is the oldest player on the team. Figueroa had a career as a semi-pro baseball player in Puerto Rico and Germany in the early 1990s before his journeys brought him here to Middletown.

His son, Tito, who is 17, is one of the youngest players on the team. He was invited by his brother in Steelton to come up from Orlando.

“In Orlando, there was nothing like the Twilight League,” he said. “I fell in love with this league and said ‘I gotta move.’”

“It took two or three months and I was already here.”

Figueroa said that he’s been extremely fortunate that his employers in the past have been willing to help him so his work schedule doesn’t conflict with his love of baseball. He says when he switched jobs from Harrisburg to Allentown, “one of my conversations was when the season starts I have to leave early, because I play baseball.” Figueroa said.

And that’s how he views himself.

“This is who I am. I am a worker, and a father. But when I see myself, I am a baseball player” he said.

For Huber, that passion started as a child.

“I grew up playing baseball my entire life. I helped coach baseball for my nephew, and baseball has just been in my blood.” Huber said.

But Huber recognizes that carrying that passion from childhood into adulthood “takes a lot of commitment to want to come play a baseball game then go into work” he said. And no one on the team recognizes that more than Zach Whitman. Whitman1Middletown pitcher Zach Whitman fires a pitch Wednesday, July 20, vs. Linglestown as Ryan Trafecanty prepares to catch it at the high school field in Middletown.

Whitman, 28, is the Middletown teams “ace” pitcher. He’s been working the nightshift for FedEx for the past five years.

“You do what you have to do to pay the bills,” he said.

Whitman started playing baseball at a young age. “Pretty much since I was able to walk, I’ve been throwing a ball” he said.

He began in the Middletown youth league and played all the way into college.

“It was always a dream to make it to the Major Leagues like every baseball player.” he said.
He landed a baseball scholarship to Georgia Southwestern State University. He started in the Twilight League in 2005 as a junior in high school.  

Whitman agreed that being an older player in the league offers a different perspective and the opportunity to teach.

“I love baseball,” Whitman said. “That’s why I keep playing it. Teaching the younger guys things that they think they know, it’s nice when you’re a little bit older because the players actually take it in and they seem like they listen to you” he said.

And spreading his knowledge and passion for the game is what brings him back each season.

“I’ll play till my arm falls off. That’s just how I am,” he said.

One of the youngest players on the team, Zach Sims, 19, has started three games as a pitcher this season. He had been playing baseball for Shippensburg University until an injury forced him off the mound midway through the season.

“I tore my meniscus and ended up having to stay home for the summer,” Sims said. “I had to get surgery in May, and ended up playing twilight.”

This has been his first year playing for the league and he has found that it’s a different level of competition on the field.

“A lot of them [the players] do have families, they work full time. For them to take three hours out of their day to go to the field to play baseball, it’s a different type of passion for the game.” Sims said. “It’s relatable because I’ve always loved the game the way those guys do. The twilight team is there to win and I love that attitude and that mindset.”

The East Shore Twilight League was founded as a nonprofit baseball league in 1975. The league is made up of seven teams from the surrounding municipalities: Hummelstown, Lawnton, Linglestown, Middletown, McAlisterville, Penbrook and Perry County. The league has to come up with their own funds to finance the teams throughout the season.

League play opens in mid-May and concludes with four-team playoffs beginning the last week of July.  

“We  are not sponsored by the town or the school itself. We are funded by the individuals on the team and then by going out and getting sponsorships from businesses in the area.” Huber said. “On top of that we do all kinds of different fundraisers, from March Madness pools to college bowl pools.”

Marcus GrayMarcus Gray pops one up.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 15:49

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Middletown makes playoffs, starts tonight

The Middletown team made the East Shore Twilight League playoffs and will play its first game at 5:45 p.m. today, July 27, in Hummelstown.

The team finished with a 13-11 record for 26 points, third place in the seven-team league. Hummelstown also finished with 26 points.

Middletown lost its next-to-last game on Wednesday, July 20. Visiting Linglestown, the top team in the league with 35 points, won 6-5. But Thursday, the team traveled to Lawnton and registered a 5-0 shutout victory.

The semifinals are a best-of-three. Middletown hosts the second game at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, July 28. If needed, a third game will be played at 5:45 p.m. Friday at Hummelstown.

The finals are a five-game series. Penbrook and Perry County, both with 24 points, are playing a play-in game to see who takes on LInglestown in the other series.

Team roster

According to the league’s website, the Middletown roster is Corey Auerbeck, Tyler Auerbeck, Melido Castro, Andrew Clark, Phil Donner, Roberto Escalet, Arturo Figueroa, Tito Figueroa, Victor Guiterrez, Tyler Heckard, Cody Henry, Louis Hile, Dillon Hippensteel, Adrian Huber, Tyler Johnston, Ethan Kell, Chuck Kline, Brian Mostek, Greg Pickel, Steve Pickel, Brandon Popp, Ryan Popp, Braedon Thomas, Gio Torres, Ryan Trafecanty and Zach Whitman.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 14:42

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Youth softball team works hard off field to raise funds to play in Indiana tournament

softball 3WEB


A local team of 13 area girls will be off to Indiana next week to take part in a national slowpitch softball tournament.

The trip wouldn’t have happened, however, without a lot of hard work by the players on the team, all of whom are 12 years old or younger.

The goal was to raise $13,000 — or $1,000 per girl — to travel to the 2016 Brownsburg Midwest Invitational in Brownsburg near Indianapolis, which will be played July 29-31. Thanks to chicken barbecues, car washes, bake sales, sub sales, discount card sales, candle sales and other events, the team reached its goal.

The players are Lavina Balliet, Hailey Herneisey, Hayley Bartholomew, Amiyah Humes, Serina Gurm, Lacey Zimmerman, Rylee Hartwick, Heaven Crane, Camila Martinez, Addyson Snyder, Elizabeth Kirkland, Madelyn Holland and Alexsys Smith.

 “With the help of business and people in the community and all these fundraisers, we’re able to get where we need to be,” said Pam Zimmerman, one of the assistant coaches.

The girls played on various rec teams earlier in the summer but came together to form the South Central Girls Softball 12U “Athletics” team. Michael Varner is the head coach and there are three other assistants, Teresa Varner, Jen Herneisey and Mark Smith. 

Seven girls are from the Lower Swatara/Middletown area, three from Dillsburg and one each from the Palmyra, Londonderry and Akron areas.

According to the Brownsburg website, it’s one of the “premier girls slowpitch tournaments on the summer circuit in the Midwest.” Even though the girls are all 12 and younger, they will play in the 13 and under age group in Indiana.

The team is practicing four days a week to get ready for next week.

Some of the girls have played together before with success. Five players were on the 2014 10 and under team that won the Duncannon, States and Cedar Cliff tournaments.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 July 2016 15:25

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Twilight team aiming for playoff spot

Middletown’s baseball team claimed victory in both games of an East Shore Twilight League double-header with visiting McAlisterville on Saturday, July 16, and kept its league playoff hopes alive in the process.

Team manager Adrian Huber said his team was within range of the league leaders.

“We have three games remaining and picked up some points today,” he said, referring to the point system used for the postseason.“The top four teams make the playoffs.”

The team came out of the weekend in second place in the men’s baseball league with its 11th and 12th wins of the season. McAlisterville is in last place. The team had 24 points with a 12-9 record coming out of the weekend but lost at home 3-1 on Monday night to Lawnton, leaving it at 24 points.

According to its website, the seven teams in the league are Hummelstown, Lawnton, Linglestown, Middletown, McAlisterville, Penbrook and Perry County. League play opens in mid-May and concludes with four-team playoffs beginning the last week of July. Semifinals and finals are both five-game series.

The team is scheduled to play first-place Linglestown tonight, July 20, at 6 p.m. at home, then travel to Lawnton to wrap up the regular season at 6 p.m Thursday, July 21. Playing in 90 degree weather on Saturday at Middletown Area High School, the team took the first game 5-3 and then rallied past McAlisterville to claim a 6-5 victory in game two. Andrew Clark picked up the pitching win in the opening game and Tyler Johnston won game two. Middletown grad Zach Sims earned saves in both contests.

Middletown 5,
McAlisterville 3

Clark gave up a two-out single and walk in the top of the opening frame but came away unscathed, getting a fly out to right to end the early threat. Brandon Popp’s leadoff single in the bottom of the first inning led to a 1-0 lead for Middletown. Popp, another MAHS grad, went to second on Dillon Hippensteel’s fielder’s choice and stole third to set up the go-ahead run.

Popp stole home on a well-executed double steal for the run.

With neither team able to crack the other’s defense, that 1-0 lead held up through the second, third and fourth innings. Middletown threatened in the second inning when Chuck Kline singled and Popp walked. But both were left stranded. The Middletown defense turned a 6-4-3 double play in the top of the third but the home team was set down in order in the home half. In the bottom of the fourth frame, Louis Hile led off with a single and Tyler Auerbeck followed with a double to left to put the first two batters in scoring position. But, with one out, Hile was caught in a rundown trying to score and the threat died with a fly ball to center for the third out.

After Clark had a 1-2-3 fifth inning, the Brewers finally broke through with a pair of runs in the home half to jump up to a 3-0 lead. Hippensteel’s leadoff single was followed by a one-out walk by Ethan Kell. A fielder’s choice ground ball by Ryan Trafecanty that the visitors failed to turn into an out left everyone safe and loaded the bases for the home team.With Hile at the plate, a low pitch in the dirt allowed Hippensteel to score from third for one run and Hile’s sacrifice fly knocked in Kell for the other run.

But that 3-0 lead did not last long.McAlisterville, keyed by four singles, scored three runs in the top of the sixth to tie the score at 3 and put the pressure on the home team. Sims came on in relief of Clark with one out and ended the rally with a pair of strikeouts.

The Middletown side answered the challenge by plating a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth to get back into the lead. Marcus Gray led off the inning with a double to left and moved to third when Popp was safe on an error. Gray scored on Hippensteel’s sacrifice bunt and Popp raced home on Huber’s clutch single that gave the home team a 5-3 lead.

Sims sat down the visitors in order in the top of the seventh to lock down the victory.

Middletown 6,
McAlisterville 5

In game two, the visitors got off to a good start against Johnston, scoring two runs off three hits and an error to grab the early 2-0 advantage. But the Middletown side answered right away, thanks to the big bat of Kell, a Middletown grad who plays college baseball at Penn State-Harrisburg.With Hippensteel and Huber on base via a bunt single and base hit, Kell drove a first-pitch fastball over the fence in left field for a three-run homer that jettisoned the Middletown team into the lead.

The Brewers plated two more runs in the bottom of the second inning on an RBI single by Hippensteel that drove in Gray, and a fielder’s choice ground ball by Kell that brought in Popp after Huber was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

The home team cruised along with the 5-2 advantage until the visitors rallied with three runs to tie the score at 5-5 in the top of the fourth frame.A walk, two singles, a double and sac fly accounted for the tying runs. But, once again, Middletown responded and eked out a single run in the home half of the fourth which turned out to be the game winner.After getting hit by a pitch for the second time, Huber stole second and went to third on an error.Trafecanty beat out a throw to first for an infield single that allowed Huber to score the go-ahead run.

Johnston gave up a leadoff single to start the fifth inning, but fielded a pop up bunt and doubled off the runner at first for two outs. A flyout to shallow right ended the inning for the visitors.

The Middletown side had one base runner in the bottom of the fifth and McAlisterville also had one on in the top of the sixth, but neither team scored. After the Brewers went down in order in the bottom of the sixth, Sims again came on in relief with the game on the line.

Sims, a Shippensburg University player, got two quick outs on a strikeout and pop up and closed out the victory with a groundout with a runner on first following an error.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 July 2016 15:19

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Middletown Teeners claim league title: 13U team beats Hershey, finishes 16-4 on season

IMG 0347Submitted Photo -- The Middletown Teener 13 and under team won the East Shore League Teener C Division championship last Wednesday July 6 by beating Hershey.

Going 16-4 on the season, the Middletown Teener 13 and under team won the East Shore League Teener C Division championship last Wednesday after winning a 23-18 slugfest over Hershey.Wagner on the bump versus Paxton in playoffsSubmitted Photo -- Tim Wagner led Middletown to victory vs. Paxton in the semifinals

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 July 2016 16:02

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