Defiance, Ohio (pop. 16,465) has an acoustic punk rock band named after it, the distinction of having “the coolest city name in the world,” according to one magazine, and a reputation for producing quality baseball players, including Major League pitcher Chad Billingsley.
Niagara coach Rob McCoy culled the area for little league teammates Cam Stykemain and Brian Wagner, two of the Purple Eagles’ steadiest performers in the outfield, at the plate, on the base paths, and in the classroom.
McCoy said the two players with the highest grade point averages on his team are equally smart, mature and responsible on the field and in the clubhouse, which Stykemain credits to his high school coaches, Tom Held and Rick Weaver.
“They teach you how to play the game the right way, how to be a good person, how to do all the little things right, and how to win games,” said Stykemain, a junior centerfielder who has overcome Tommy John surgery two summers ago and another operation to remove nine bone spurs in his elbow last fall to bat .284 in the No. 2 spot with 32 runs scored.
“Coach has been patient with me,” he said. “I feel good now, except for a little arthritis.”
“I think his knowledge of the game really gives him an advantage over guys that are bigger, faster and stronger than him,” McCoy said. “He is one of our captains and he holds a lot of guys responsible for what they do.”
McCoy discovered Wagner on one of his recruiting trips to see Stykemain.
“The day he came, I had the game of my life,” Wagner said. “I think I had two triples, a single, stole a couple bases, but when I was talking to coach afterward, he said he was recruited me because of my defense.”
Wagner said Stykemain helped in the recruiting process, too. At the time, Wagner was also considering going to Harvard and playing football, or attending schools in Ohio where he wouldn’t play either sport
“Cam is definitely a person I respect, one of my best friends for a long while,” Wagner said. “He told me it’s a great academic institution and a good baseball program.”
As a freshman, Wagner was asked to be the team’s closer midway through the season after Dennis Chachko had an appendectomy. In Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference games, Wagner, who was a starting pitcher in high school up until his senior year, had a 2-1 record and four saves.
This year he is playing right and batting in the eight hole. In MAAC games he’s slugging .408 with a .340 on-base percentage and six stolen bases.
“No one has been hotter for us than he has been the last 10 days,” McCoy said.
Niagara hosts Saint Peter’s this weekend needing a sweep to stay in contention for the MAAC playoffs. Today’s doubleheader and Sunday’s single game both start at noon.
Saint Peter’s at Niagara
• WHEN: Noon today (DH)
• WHERE: Sal Maglie Stadium
• NOTES: Eagles come in with 9-9 mark and trails Rider by 1.5 games for the fourth and final MAAC playoff spot. ... Two teams play again on Sunday at noon.