By Dan Chalk, Midland Daily News
Gregg Sauve and Dave O’Keefe are excited about what lies ahead this summer, and for many years to come, in local men’s fastpitch softball.
The two longtime players and coaches have a vision for a new fastpitch organization that’s young, athletic, made up of local players, and built to last for a long time.
And that’s why they’ve organized a new elite men’s fastpitch team in Midland.
The new team, the “Midland Emerson ACes,” will make its debut this summer.
The team name was chosen to reflect Emerson Park, where the ACes will play their home games at Currie Stadium, and as a tribute to the Dow AC’s (Athletic Club), a dominant Midland fastpitch team in the 1940s and 1950s.
“The Dow AC’s were the first big fastpitch team in Midland,” Sauve noted. “(The team name) kind of ties it all together nicely.”
Sauve and O’Keefe, both veterans of more than three decades in fastpitch, will co-manage the new team, which they envision competing at the Open level, just like the Midland Explorers. Jim Wallace will also be on the coaching staff.
Sauve, who has been the Explorers’ manager for the past two years, and O’Keefe, who has been his assistant, said they had a friendly parting of ways with the Explorers during this offseason. They had a difference of philosophies over what direction to take the team in the next few years.
“We left as friends,” Sauve said. “It was our decisions to leave. We talked to (longtime Explorers’ players) Kyle (Beane) and Steve (Horning). Our idea of what the Explorers needed to do right now was to bring some youth in, and let’s get some more Midland guys in. Their philosophy was that they kind of have a locked-in roster. … And that’s fine. You know you’re going to have top-notch pitching, and it’s a well-run organization.
“But what we’re looking at doing is something brand-new,” Sauve added. “There are kids out there who want to play (open fastpitch) and don’t have an avenue to play. … All you have is one team (in Midland) to have a shot to play at (the Open) level. Now you’ll have two teams to have a shot at playing at that level. It expands the horizon.”
The ACes have put together a roster that so far includes Midland High graduates Ken and Sean Hoffman and Neil Faccio; Bullock Creek grad Josh Peterson; Bay City Western grad Kevin Dore; Freeland grad Justin Krenzke; Meridian grad Brandon Krause; former Northwood baseball player Jeff Nowaczyk; former Saginaw Valley State player Andrew Plouff; longtime local fastpitch pitcher Rick Engle; former Explorers’ pitcher Doug Sleep and his son, Ben Sleep; pitcher Kyle Crawford from Ontario; and outfielder Josh Thomson of New Zealand.
The majority of the ACes’ players played baseball in both high school and college.
Sauve and O’Keefe said they also plan to talk to other managers in the Midland fastpitch league to find out if they have any players interested in playing open ball.
Sauve noted that the Hoffman brothers, Peterson, and others got a taste of competing at the Open level when they played for the Big Apple Bagels team and won a couple of games at the ISC World Tournament in Midland last August.
“It gets in their veins,” Sauve said. “Then the word gets out, and they say, ‘Hey, So-and-So wants to play ball.’ … They’re doing things they never did in baseball.
“It gives them another avenue to continue to play (at a high level).”
O’Keefe said that teams such as Big Apple Bagels last year and Mickey’s at the 2010 ISC in Midland generated a lot of buzz among Midland fans because of the fact that they had a lot of local players.
“I was on board with Mickey’s in 2010 and last year with Big Apple Bagels, and with the Explorers,” O’Keefe noted. “It was exciting for all of them, but there was a certain higher level of buzz and excitement with the (local) teams like Mickey’s and Big Apple Bagels.
“I think over the last maybe eight to 10 years, the Explorers are still a Midland team, but that real close bond with Midland has diminished a little bit over that course of time, just in the fact that to remain competitive at the level that they have over the years, they’ve had to bring in players from outside of Midland and they’ve lost a little of the identity with Midland,” O’Keefe said.
Sauve said he’s excited about the makeup of the new team.
“They’re going to be athletic. They’re going to be able to play defense. We’re going to have pitching that will keep us in most ballgames,” he said. “If you get a good draw (in a tournament), you can win some ballgames.”
The ACes’ players will play on separate teams in the Midland fastpitch league during the week, and will come together as the Aces on about six weekends, playing an estimated 25 to 35 games during the season.
So far, they are scheduled to play in the Lee Isenhart/Lefty Bartos Memorial Tournament at Emerson Park in June — where they will have a game against the Explorers — along with an Open tournament in Petoskey. The Aces may also compete at tourneys in Frankenmuth and Port Huron, and their ultimate goal is to play in the ASA Major Nationals in South Bend, Ind., and the ISC World Tournament in Moline, Ill.
Sauve said his vision is for the team to endure for many years, just as the Explorers have.
“We don’t want to build for one or two years. We want it to be along the lines of the Explorers,” he said. “ … It’s going to take a few years to get (our team) to that level. It’s going to be our job to bring in pitching to make them competitive. Our forecast is that this (organization) can go on and on.”
Along with the emphasis on having local players, Sauve also wants to have the team compete mainly within Michigan to keep its travel costs low.
“We want to stay in Michigan as much as possible,” he said.
The team will have “Midland Emerson ACes” printed on the front of its jerseys, and its jackets will feature an image of Currie Stadium on the back.
The ACes are sponsored by Pat Carey of Carey All-State insurance, Kevin Marsh, and Laura Currie.
The team’s website is www.midlandsemersonaces.com. Its Facebook page is under the name “midlands emerson aces” and its team email address is midlandsemersonaces [@] gmail.com