Frank Viverito is trying to bring back another Final Four to St. Louis. But the stakes have changed: The event transcends sports. The city of Dallas estimates that they will have an economic impact of $276 million at its Final Four this year.
Of all the people playing professional sports in our town, Trevor Rosenthal may be the most gifted. And by the end of this season, he may be the best closer in baseball. LN contributor Frank Cusumano caught up with him in Jupiter.
Expectations have followed him everywhere. Whether as the second pick in the NHL draft in 1993 or when he was traded for a popular All-Star like Brendan Shanahan, Chris Pronger knew he had to perform. Some cave under the pressure, but Pronger thrived. All he did was make six All-Star games, win two gold medals at the Olympics, a Stanley Cup, a Norris Trophy for being the top defenseman, and a Hart Trophy for being the Most Valuable Player.
Chris Sloan grew up in St. Charles County and already has a lot of life in 31 years. He began it by developing into the best basketball player in Francis Howell North history, scoring almost 1,900 hundred points and leading the school to its only Final Four appearence. At Saint Louis University, he started more than 100 games for three years. He scored 700 points, grabbed 400 rebounds and dished out 150 assists. The 6-foot, 7-inch Sloan was a coach's dream for Lorenzo Romar and Brad Soderberg.
Of all the people who have ever played high school football in our area, I think what T. J. Moe did his senior year stacks up against anybody—anybody. Read closely: At Fort Zumwalt West in 2008, he scored 61 touchdowns. That is not a career, that is a single season. Only Roger Maris has had a more impressive 61. Moe threw for 2,557 yards, and he ran for 2,029 yards. Throw in a perfect grade point average and a pretty good basketball career, and you have a pretty nice high-school experience.
In almost every sport, bigger is better. While there are plenty of examples of guys who are not tall who have thrived, it's just a little easier if you are blessed with size. Johnny Hellweg was blessed with size.
The best pitcher on Planet Earth right now is from our town. Max Scherzer is throwing a baseball better than anybody in the world. He's the pride of Parkway Central. He was a standout there, but nobody anticipated this: Scherzer leads the American League in wins and whip, and is second in strikeouts. He is the winningest pitcher in baseball in the last two years.
You see his name often in the paper. And usually, there is just a number after it, like 68 or 69. That guy is Skip Berkmeyer, and he is to local golf what Tiger Woods was once to professional golf.
Brandon Bollig is the first St. Louis-area high school kid to have his name on the Stanley Cup. Just imagine how many kids have grown up playing hockey in our town's history, but there is only one with his name on that trophy.
If anybody was destined to have a career in sports, it was Jay Delsing. But Jay decided not hit curve balls or blast penalty kids: He wanted to hit wedges.
Imagine this life if you will: You are a senior in high school. You can throw a fastball 90-plus miles per hour. You are a starter on a very good basketball team. And you also happen to be one of the better quarterbacks in the Midwest.
If the good Lord were to give me one perfect day, it would be to have my father back, and the two of us would head to Busch Stadium for Opening Day. Alzheimers took him from us six years ago. The disease may destroy memories, but it won't erase a single second of the time the two of us spent at the ballpark together.
Frank Cusumano and his dad taking in a game at Wrigley Field
Ryan Robertson arguably posted the best career stats of any high school player in our town's history. Now that he's returned home, Robertson is coaching his children's basketball teams.
If there is anybody who had a more exciting prep career in West County over the last quarter of a century than Bobby Keppel, I would like to meet him. In 1999, Keppel was a star 6-foot-5-inch junior point guard for the De Smet Spartans. In the state championship game, De Smet squared off against the big, bad Vashon Wolverines, who had beaten them badly the year before. Keppel exploded for 19 points in the first half, and De Smet went on to win the state title, 70 to 64. Then in his senior year, Keppel won another state championship—this one was in baseball. Keppel was a flame-throwing righthander who threw 94 on the radar gun and hit homeruns with regularity. When he was on the mound, major league scouts always were behind the plate, all holding up radar guns.
When Mark Cusumano walks through the dining room of Kemoll’s, he often pauses under a portrait of his grandmother, Doris. Eighty-six years ago, Doris and Joe Kemoll opened a restaurant that would become one of St. Louis’ most renowned fine dining establishments, and Cusumano understands the importance of carrying on his grandparents’ legacy. “Whenever I walk by, I can’t help but think, How am I doing, Grandma?”
Sports today has become specialized—too specialized. Because of the popularity of select sports, kids are forced to quit sports they are proficient in so they can make that fifth select hockey, soccer or basketball practice of the week. That's why stories like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders don't happen much anymore. In high school, it's tough to be really good at two sports. In college, the two-sport athlete is almost non-existent.
The date was July 10, 1999. The event was the final of the Women's World Cup between the United States and China. The audience of 40 million made it the most-watched soccer game ever on U.S. network television.
It was the spring of 2005. Mike McNeill was a junior in high school. He was at home in Kirkwood, and he had just gotten the mail. There was a letter from Nebraska, but he wasn't quite sure what it meant. He thought they were offering him a scholarship. He asked his mom to read the letter. Afterward, she thought the same thing. They weren't quite certain. So they actually called the Nebraska recruiter and asked, "Does this mean you are offering a scholarship?" The recruiter laughed before telling them yes, they were offering.
In the history of St. Louis basketball players in the NBA, David Lee takes a backseat to very few. Ed Macauley, Bill Bradley and Jo Jo White are the only players from our area who have accomplished more than Lee.
It happened at almost every Westminster Christian Academy baseball game in 2009: Scouts--sometimes as many as 25 of them, all behind home plate--pointing their radar guns at the pitcher. He stood 6 feet, five inches tall. He rarely changed expression. He never smiled. He was 17 going on 27. Jacob Turner was locked in. He knew Major League Baseball would be timing and watching almost every pitch he would throw his senior season.
It happened almost every night: The family would have dinner, then Dad would load the kids into the car and drive to a grade school gym. There, they would play wall-to-wall basketball. The father, Rusty Lisch, was a former NFL quarterback. He drove the two boys and two girls hard. However, they didn’t seem to mind. They loved their dad, loved competition and loved becoming the best players on their teams. All four Lisch kids went to college on basketball scholarships, including Kevin Lisch, who became a star player at Saint Louis University.
He is at a golf course every morning at 6 a.m. He wants to be the first person off, and he doesn’t have time to wait behind a foursome of a bunch of hackers. He has too much at stake. He has a swing out of Golf Digest and the mind of a champion. He also has a dream: 23-year-old Justin Bryant wants to be a member of the PGA Tour.
Drew Hanlen is the most motivated young athlete I have ever covered. In the dead of a cold winter in Webster Groves, while every other student was sleeping, Hanlen was in the gym at 5:15 a.m. He would shoot between 750 and 1,250 jump shots per workout. Then he would shower, go to class, practice with the team and finish with a skills workout.