Baird Brothers baseball team takes aim at trip to Palomino World Series
A competitor by nature, Tyler Smith hoped to find a baseball team of similarly driven players throughout his youth.
He found what he was looking for in his final summer before college.
Smith, a recent graduate of Deer Lakes, joined the Youngstown, Ohio-based Baird Brothers baseball team for the first time this summer. The team, a collection of college-committed graduates or current players from the WPIAL, Ohio and other Pennsylvania schools, won its third consecutive Youngstown Class B championship earlier this month and followed it up with a title at the National Amateur Baseball Federation Senior Division World Series, its first since 2014.
“I’ve never experienced playing on a team like this before where everyone has the same goal of each other of getting better, playing baseball and pursuing their their dreams of playing college-level ball together,” said Smith, a West Liberty recruit who transferred to Deer Lakes from Shaler as a senior.
More than 60 Baird Brothers alumni are playing in college or above, including Norwin graduate J.J. Matijevic, a member of the Houston Astros minor-league system. Nearly all of the more than two dozen players on this summer’s roster are committed to colleges.
“All the guys on the team are studs,” said 2018 Knoch graduate Dylan Swarmer. “It’s so much fun to play with all of them. You almost don’t have any pressure because if you don’t get the hit, the next guy’s going to get the hit and pick up your slack.”
The WPIAL players or alumni include Belle Vernon’s Josh Hoffman; Butler’s Jacob Keene and Connor Ollio; Canon-McMillan’s Zach Rohaley; Central Catholic’s Marshall McGraw; Deer Lakes’ Jake McCaskey and Smith; Knoch’s Swarmer; Mars’ Joey Craska and Rowen Fletcher; Mt. Lebanon’s Spencer Curran; Penn-Trafford’s Zach Mancz; Peters Township’s Garrett Miller; Serra Catholic’s Nate Piontka; and Shaler’s Patrick Gumto.
“When we first got in there, it was kind of like how everything is when you first start meeting new people,” McCaskey said. “Everyone was quiet, and it was maybe even a little awkward at times. But as we got to know each other, I’ve never had this much fun playing with a group of guys. This is easily the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball. I can’t say enough about the guys on the team.”
Swarmer, a Lackawanna College commit, played for other travel teams in the past but didn’t want to commit to that type of expense this summer.
He said he “couldn’t be happier with my decision” to join Baird for the first time. He missed about a month of the regular season with a torn thumb ligament but returned about a month ago.
“The coaches are awesome,” he said. “They’re always there for you. The thing is, they don’t overcoach you. They kind of let you do your thing, but if they see something that needs improved on, they help you with it.”
Baird ripped through the regular season with a 42-6 record before finishing its three-peat in the Youngstown Class B league and dominating the NABF World Series.
“We all mess around and joke with each other, but no one really takes it to heart,” Smith said. “We all have each other’s back. Pitching is definitely the key, but say we have a bad outing by one of our pitchers and they give up four or five runs, we’ll come back and score eight or nine.
“It takes a lot of pressure off the pitchers because I pitched a lot for this team and I knew if I didn’t have my A game out there, I had the bats behind me and everyone had my back in the field.”
“We have probably around 25 guys on our roster, and I’d have to guess probably 10 are pitcher-only,” said Swarmer, a catcher. “So every day we’d have a pitcher coming, and you’d know every game, especially as a catcher, you were going to catch a stud.”
Of course, it wasn’t too often that pitchers didn’t have their best stuff. Baird gave up just six runs in seven games in its World Series title run, posting four shutouts along the way.
Miller threw 6 1/3 perfect innings in the tournament opener for Baird, setting the tone. The team won 8-2 in the championship game.
“It’s absolutely amazing knowing the feeling of you’re the top team, you’re putting everything on the line (and) you’re the best ones there,” said McCaskey, a Cal (Pa.) recruit. “There were some very good, talented teams there. But with our pitching staff, our defense and our offense is able to put up runs when you need it, it’s almost unstoppable. Everything has to go wrong for us to drop a game.”
Baird will attempt to keep its hot summer going in the Pony Palomino East Zone tournament, which began Thursday in Youngstown. The winner advances to the Palomino World Series in Laredo, Texas.
Smith won’t play the rest of the summer after suffering a torn quadriceps muscle -- an injury he played on for two weeks in the postseason and one that worsened in Baird’s World Series dog pile. Neither will Swarmer, who recently turned 19 -- exceeding the team’s age limit.
Still, both plan to be on hand to support their teammates as they seek some more hardware.
“We’ve still got a little bit of ball left to play, and nobody’s upset about that at all,” McCaskey said.