I went to my first high school baseball game. I was surprised that the season had already started. My new “buddy” Bob (Day 14 “Bonnie Frank!”) is the pitching coach at Cape Coral High School, so I thought I would check it out. The Cape Coral Seahawks were taking on the Cypress Lake Lightning. There are three high school baseball seasons in Florida, spring, summer, and fall. There is a six week break between each season, I was blown away at that, why I don’t know, it is Florida after all! It was a perfect night for a baseball game, about 70 degrees, just cool enough for the Floridians to break out their cold weather gear.
I went up to Lou Spangler, his wife Yuko, and Lou’s father who were at the game to watch their son Luke play. I hit pay dirt with the Spangler’s. My obsession with parents of elite youth baseball players was going to get fed. Lou and Yuko moved to Cape Coral 9 years ago. They were down on vacation to watch the Atlanta Braves play a spring training game against the Detroit Tigers in Orlando with Justin Verlander scheduled to pitch for the Tigers. Verlander trained at the same facility (Richmond Baseball Academy) as Lou’s boys and the Braves were their favorite team, so the whole two birds with one stone thing was happening… Lou knew his kids were talented ball players at an early age. When on that vacation he was exposed to the elite youth baseball that was happening down in South Florida, Lou returned to West Virginia, tendered his resignation and moved his family down that June.
Lou met his wife Yuko in Tokyo when he was stationed there while in the Navy. After nine years he decided to get out. He went to college, followed by medical school and is currently an emergency room physician “where it is not always fun but it is never dull”, he says with a laugh. Yuko played Little League growing up in Japan with her brother. Lou played basketball, football and baseball as a kid in West Virginia. His dad, who was down visiting, told me that he played some ball on coal mining teams back in the day, but baseball wasn’t very organized when he was growing up as it is now. Like most others I talk too, there is something about baseball that attracts Lou. He said, “The atmosphere while at a game or the history of the game, he can’t put his finger on it but it is all just so relaxing, one moment you can be riveted by the play or daydreaming in the stands enjoying a beer or hot dog.”
He and Yuko have three boys Koji, 21, who is a junior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Cain a freshman at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL where he is on the baseball team but is redshirting this year. His dad said he is a “corner guy” (first or third base) but is hopefully transitioning to pitching. Then there is Luke, a senior pitcher at Cape Coral High School. Luke is currently rated 218th best player nationally, he was rated as high as 76th by Perfect Game. During the first inning of a game last March against the team Cape Coral was playing on this night Cypress Lake, he blew out his arm and needed Tommy John surgery. A few MLB teams had already expressed interest in Luke and were sending text messages to Lou right after Luke had the MRI to find out how he was. Lou laughed because he didn’t know how they found out so fast. In April Luke had the surgery by none other than James Andrews. Andrews is the most renowned orthopedic surgeon in his profession for knee, elbow, and shoulder injuries and he is highly sought after by all the top athletes. While Luke was rehabbing at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze, RG3 (Robert Griffin III, quarterback of the Washington Redskins) was also there rehabbing his surgically repaired knee.
Lou says, “You can’t throw a rock without hitting a big leaguer around here!” Luke works out at the Minnesota Twins complex a few days a week with their Single A hitting coach. “It is unbelievable the amount of exposure that kids get down here”, Lou exclaims, and he is starting to see some of the kids that his boys played with or against reaching the higher levels of pro ball. I asked about the cost of having his kids involved and he just shakes his head, Lou says, “it has probably cost him a couple hundred thousand in fees, traveling expenses, equipment and lost income.” It is a family passion. They have gotten to spend a lot of time together, and with baseball there is a common bond, they have traveled all over the country participating in many tournaments. Luke has played for the Florida Bombers baseball club, which has been a major draw for countless MLB draft picks, D1 college signings and big leaguers such as Mat Latos, Gaby Sanchez, Eric Hosmer, Chris Perez, Jemile Weeks and recent World Series champion John Jay.
Luke attended a Top 150 Perfect Game Prospect Showcase in Minneapolis last year. He was listed as a pitcher, but they had him participate with the outfielders. His dad laughed when he told me they rated him the #1 outfielder after. I could tell how proud Lou was, he seemed to have everything in perspective and he also seemed to be keeping Luke’s head on straight. With all the attention he has gotten from colleges and MLB teams, I don’t know if my “head” would be able to fit through normal size doors with that kind of attention. Luke has signed a national letter of intent to play at the University of Miami next year, his dream school! Cape Coral High School made a big production of him signing at Miami, he made the news, his dad said he was a bit surprised but it was very exciting.
Lou has been like the other parents and coaches I have come across. They are very passionate about the game, can tell you about different players, the best coaches, and where all the opportunities lie. Most like Lou are very realistic at how far their kids can go and don’t expect perfection. He just wants them to go out and give it their all having fun in the process. I have heard all the horror stories about the overbearing parents that are living vicariously through their kids, but I have yet to run across any of them. I love the fact that my preconceived notion is not panning out. Lou, like the rest, have said that they are out there. Even though, until I see them for myself I will just keep enjoying this game from the “oblivious” fan perspective…
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Justin Verlander: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Verlander
Florida Bombers: http://www.eteamz.com/floridabombers/news/
James Andrews: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Andrews_(physician)
Perfect Game: http://www.perfectgame.org/Showcases/