By Brad Spencer
While inclement weather has played a part in the Oak Park and River Forest High School baseball team's rough start to the season, not having its head coach in the dugout or at practice or anywhere near the club hasn't been easy either.
Where has Chris Ledbetter, who coached three OPRF teams to state championship games—winning one in 2012—been?
Prepping to replace Derek Jeter for the Yankees?
Luging in Prague?
Getting caught up on Game of Thrones episodes?
Healing from spinal fusion surgery?
Perhaps the last two answers are correct, for sure the last. Ledbetter underwent the major surgery at the end of February to relieve a lingering and debilitating injury in his neck, a procedure much like the one performed on Peyton Manning. He's hoping days of unbearable pain and nights of having to sleep upright in bed are behind him. The seven-inch scar on his lower neck is a small price to pay for regaining his mobility, but he's been chomping at the bit to pick up a fungo bat and go back to work.
"It's been difficult to stay away, but my coaches have done a tremendous job with the club," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be cleared by my doctor to at least sit in the dugout sometime this week and we'll go from there."
Ledbetter, who, since taking over the head coaching job in 2000, also coached third base as most high school head baseball coaches do, said he's optimistic he'll be able to be on hand in the dugout when the team travels to De La Salle on Thursday. He said he talks regularly with his coaches, Joe Parenti and Wayne Wente, about the direction of the Huskies, who are 3-4 overall after splitting a doubleheader against York on Saturday. Despite the losses, two of which came during a club trip to Pompano Beach, Fla., over spring break, Ledbetter said he's not concerned about the slow start.
"We're five weeks into the season but really just one week into games, so we're just getting started," he said. "There have already been three games moved around due to weather. There's still a long way to go and this is a team that will keep improving with every game. There is certainly no panic button to press right now."
With experienced players such as Sam Cottingham-Beard, Pat Rumoro and Keith Rogalla, the Huskies are likely to make another deep run in the postseason. Cottingham-Beard, a 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound right handed pitcher/outfielder who has played varsity for three seasons, is headed to Western Illinois University in the fall. Rogalla, who splits time on the mound and at first baseball with Ian Luttrell, has signed with Creighton.
Ledbetter also has a bevy of talented pitchers at his disposal, including Ryan Chancellor, lefty Chris Rumoro, Alex Rice, Jack Stannard, Chris Atwood, Ryan Fish, Andrew Donlan and John McAllister, who boasts a mean slider but missed the entire season last year after undergoing arm surgery.
"I'd say it's the deepest pitching staff I've ever had," said Ledbetter. "It's a good problem to have, especially this season with the weather backing things up. Pitching will play a huge part in a team's success come playoff time."
On Friday (4:30 p.m.) the Huskies kick-off a three-game series when they travel to Lyons Township, the West Suburban (Silver) Conference rival they defeated to win the 2012 Class 4A State title. They'll play the second game at LTHS on Saturday (2 p.m.) before hosting the Lions on Monday, April 14 (4:30 p.m.).
The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete Feature, The Midtown Athletic Club Athlete of the Week and weekly sports calendar/scoreboard are sponsored by Midtown Athletic Club in Oak Park.