Rebels breaking away to pursue advanced play
16-year-old players looking to other leagues for new challenges
The Midwest Rebels are now a little less than two weeks removed from their 16-and-under state championship.
And soon the team will be removed from the landscape of summer baseball in Eudora. The Rebels' run ends this season as the 16-year-olds prepare for their next great adventure.
"It was a great ending to a book that we started writing seven years ago," manager John Griffin said. "Seven years ago, Phil Hannon, Kenny Massey and I started the Midwest Rebels program for the sole purpose of developing the kids from Baldwin and Eudora, stressing the fundamentals and to be able to compete with the larger cities and school districts.
"As we did with Andy Hannon, Cal Heinrich and Andrew Pyle, we were committed until their 16-year-old season was complete. It is then time for the kids to play American Legion ball or explore other options as 17- and 18-year-olds."
The odd-couple combination of rival Eudora and Baldwin City players provided a powerful chemical mix.
"Both EHS and BHS players got better, and it will only make that rivalry that much better," Griffin said. "You can't say enough about the efforts of the kids or the coaches."
Winning the state title was not the Rebels primary goal. But they wanted it badly.
"Over the seven years and 12 teams, we had never won the elusive state championship," Griffin said. "Last year as 15-year-olds, we took second at the state tournament and then finished fourth at the national tournament.
"Even with the 2001 16-and-under team made up of some very incredible baseball players like Hannon, Pyle, Heinrich, Seth Johnson, Andrew Maxwell and many others, we never won the state championship."
But no Rebels team had ever reached the level of performance that the 2004 squad attained.
"When you score over 60 runs and give up less than 10 in a six-game tournament, you are going to be successful," Griffin said. "Phil (Hannon) and Dirk (Kinney) got the best effort from the team at the right time of the year. I think that this being the last of an era -- Midwest Rebels being finished -- was somewhat a motivational factor."
It was indeed a fitting end to an era.
"Several of these kids played for us since they were 10-years-old," Griffin said. "We closed the book on Rebels baseball the right way. We won the state tournament."
The state championship will likely leave the most enduring mark on the community. But for Griffin and his coaches, the entire experience is laced with memorable players and performances.
"Over seven years and a dozen teams, we made a lot of memories," Griffin said. "It is exciting to see kids who wore the Rebels uniform playing in college. Phil Hannon and I went to the Junior College State Championship in Wichita this spring, and seven kids were on the field that played for us when they were 16. It will be interesting to see the number of kids from the past two years that played for the Midwest Rebels who go on and play college baseball."
And the talent-rich 2004 group is likely to follow suit.
As for next year, the players will look to regroup and start a new tradition.
"We may start some kind of American Legion team with (Eudora), Baldwin and maybe Wellsville kids," Kinney said. "We'll have to get together and talk with the kids. It's the kid's decision.
"I'd like to start something though. They've never had it here."
The players, coaches and personnel for that embryonic enterprise have yet to be determined. But Kinney looks back with great respect and admiration of the Rebels co-founder.
"John (Griffin) ran the program really solid," Kinney said. "He's done a great job with it.
"I spent my first two years with Mike Westerhouse and then John. You couldn't ask for two better people to work with. They are both great guys."
Griffin's commitment to the cause made Kinney's job easier -- both in the summer and the spring.
"I'm thankful for what John's done for the program and for the team," Kinney said. "His goal was to produce better players and better people, and he definitely accomplished that.
"He's dedicated ample time to the game of baseball. And as a high school coach, I enjoy getting to see the kids playing on a consistent basis."
The Rebels will no longer appear on the field. But generations to come will find evidence of the state champs at the ballpark.
"As a parting gift to EHS baseball, the Midwest Rebels will be purchasing an air conditioner for the baseball press box," Griffin said. "The donation is a small way to express our appreciation to Dirk and EHS for the use of the facility the past two years."