PHILADELPHIA – The 2011 Carpenter Cup champions finally got their just rewards.
Last month, the Lehigh Valley squad, dotted with local players, wrapped up the championship at Citizens Bank Park. Last night, they were back once again, this time as guests to receive the Carpenter Cup before the Phillies game against San Francisco.
To present the trophy there was no better person than Northampton's own Brian Schneider.
The former Carpenter Cup player and current Phillies catcher presented the trophy to the team before last night's game against the defending World Series Champion Giants.
Schneider, who never forgot his roots and genuinely gives back to the Valley every chance he can, added a perk to the champs by inviting the team down to the field before the game to hang with the Phillies during batting practice.
"They played well, they won, and they deserve it. So it's kinda cool," Schneider said.
As a spokesperson for the Carpenter Cup, Schneider followed the Lehigh Valley team, checking the scores to see if they won. When they did, he set up the reward.
"I asked if the team could come down and see us work out, meet the guys and talk to them. It worked out and it was set up that way."
Schneider, a 1994 Carpenter Cup member for the Lehigh Valley, greeted each player, signed autographs, posed for pictures, and answered any and all questions that the high school players had.
"Honestly, I don't even know how to describe it," Lehighton's Ty Harris said. "To a have a professional baseball player talk to us about what to do and how to stick with it will definitely help out in the future."
Schneider gathered the team and gave some words of wisdom before he went into the clubhouse to prepare for the game. He suggested the team should watch the Phillies finish their bating practice and hang around to watch the Giants.
"I get the chance to learn from them by watching their routines whether it be their defense or their offense, the way they stretch and their footwork," Harris said while scrutinizing Chase Utley in the cage.
"I'm speechless actually," Northern Lehigh's Jake Kern said. "Just being around this environment and atmosphere is just a great experience overall. (These are) our idols growing up and who we look up to, and now we're standing on the field with them. "
An added prize was players like Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez, and Ryan Howard made their way over to greet the players. In Howard's case, he signed ticket stubs, baseballs, and hats. He even signed Kern's shirt with the strict care instructions not to wash it.
The Carpenter Cup, started in 1986 by the Phillies owners Bob and Ruly Carpenter, is one of the best classics of high school talent in the country featuring 16-teams from the Philadelphia Area.
Lehigh Valley, organized by Joe Pirro in 1992 and coached by former Palmerton head baseball coach Ted Plessl, traveled to Ashburn Field in FDR park near the stadium to defeat Philadelphia Public 12-0. That was followed by an 8-4 win over Olympic-Colonial at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown to set up two games at Citizens Bank Park for the final four.
"It was a great experience," Lehighton's Ty Hill said of playing at the first two venues. "But coming and playing here at Citizens Bank was another world."
In the semifinals, Lehigh Valley knocked off Tri-Cape 9-6 and dumped Burlington Country 5-3 in the final to win the cup.
"That was definitely by far the coolest thing I've done in my life," Harris said. "To get to play on a major league field makes you want it that much more. "
Although the team was gathered as stars from the Lehigh Valley, they smiled, laughed and joked behind the batting cage as if they were playing together for years.
"We formed close bonds with each other and we are like a family now," Kern said.
For Schneider, this generosity was second nature. Growing up in the Lehigh Valley he would have died to have a Triple-A team to go see every night. I'm sure he also would have wanted to hang out with the Phillies during BP.
"He can pretty much relate to all of us being from the area," Hill said.
In his 12th season, Schneider played with the Expos, Nationals, and Mets before coming to Philadelphia. With his major league status, the Northampton native has become the perfect role model for Lehigh Valley high school players.
And some of those players now have a memory they will always remember.