HAMMER STRENGTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR

By Dave Wohlhueter

Coaching Management, 12.7, September 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1207/hammerplayer.htm

"Baseball is the greatest game ever created, and when it was created, it was done so with people like Andy Goff in mind.”
— Mark Saghy, Head Baseball Coach, Mt. Lebanon High School, Pittsburgh, Pa.

It was August 1, two weeks before Andy Goff was to begin a new chapter in his life, as a student-athlete at Wake Forest University. Thousands of recent high school graduates in the same situation as Andy were spending the weekend soaking up the last rays of summer. Where was Goff? In Mississippi, soaking up an extra dose of the 2004 baseball season by competing in the National Amateur Baseball Federation championships.

Goff had extra motivation for playing in this year’s NABF championships: He played on last year’s Pittsburgh area team that won its NABF regional and eventually won the competition, but he couldn’t make to the trip to the final round because of another commitment. So Andy was determined to make it to the finals this year, and he helped the team repeat as national champions by going 7-for-17 at the plate and sparkling in the field.

Loving the game of baseball and possessing the talent and work ethic to succeed on the diamond pretty much describe Goff, a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh, who is the 2004 Hammer Strength Baseball Player of the Year.

The award was established in 2001 to honor a high school baseball player who exemplifies the outstanding qualities and determination of New York Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi. Both players share a tremendous passion for the sport backed up by a work ethic that exceeds 100 percent.

In addition to honoring Andy specifically, Hammer Strength will present Mt. Lebanon High School with a piece of strength-training equipment of its choice.

Nominations were submitted by high school coaches from around the United States. The candidates, from a highly competitive pool, were considered based on their qualities in the areas of academics, leadership, dedication, and integrity.

“You may find more talented players, or better students in this country,” said Mt. Lebanon High School Head Baseball Coach Mark Saghy, “but you will never find a finer student-athlete who personifies the reasons why high school baseball is one of the greatest experiences in a lifetime.”

Goff backed up Saghy’s praise this spring by being named All-Section Seven and WPIAL District on the diamond at shortstop, after winning All-Section honors as a quarterback in the fall of 2003. He was also named the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Athlete of the Year. In the classroom, he carried a 3.8 cumulative GPA, and received the YMCA Baseball Scholar-Athlete Award.

Goff learned at an early age about the importance of excelling in both venues. “Right from the start, my mom said that if I didn’t get good grades, I wouldn’t be able to play baseball,” he says. “That was all I needed to hear, and I started working in the classroom.”

His favorite motto is: “You have to make the grade to make the field.” Maintaining that attitude helped him to meet the tough academic standards of Mt. Lebanon High School, and the expectations of Coach Saghy. “If you get it done in the classroom, then you get to play, and that’s been my motivation all my life,” Goff explains.

He says winning the YMCA’s scholar-athlete award was a testament to the commitment of his parents as well as himself. “They’ve always pushed me to do well in the classroom, and baseball just took care of itself,” he explains.

His success in baseball, though, didn’t just happen. It took many years of hard work for Goff to be a four-year starter on the diamond in high school. “Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to play professional baseball,” he says. “When I was younger, my dad told me, ‘Every day, do something to make yourself better, whether it be mentally in the classroom, or physically in the weightroom or by running. Even if you are watching TV, do pushups or something during the commercials.’ My parents have always been supportive of everything I have attempted to do.”

The game of baseball further strengthened Goff’s commitment to discipline. “You have to work every day at discipline,” he says. “Baseball is not a game where you can succeed all the time. If you went 3-for-10 every day, you would be in the Hall of Fame. You need to deal with the failures and keep persevering.”

“Ever since his freshman year, Andy has been a leader,” says Coach Saghy. “He knows when to lead by example, and when to speak up to ‘jump start’ a team, but he never yells.” He also makes sure no one is ever down on his team, and that everything is always positive. “You never want to get too high,” Goff says. “If I’m 4-for-4, you would never be able to tell. Lead by example, show no emotion, and play 110 percent all the time.”

Although he had a .707 on-base percentage in the spring, Goff considers hitting to be the hardest part of the game. “It’s harder than anything you do in all of sports, because you are hitting a moving object with a moving object,” he says. “I need to learn to hit with power and to hit the other way. Hopefully at the next level, I can work on those aspects of the game.”

Goff will get his opportunity to play on the collegiate level when he enrolls at Wake Forest in the fall. He says that when choosing a college, he received sound advice everywhere he visited, but he especially liked what the Xavier University coach told him during the recruiting process. He said: “Andy, the biggest thing is that you have to sit down one day and think about where you see yourself, and where you are going to feel comfortable, even if it is not Xavier. I want you to go where you will be the most comfortable.” Wake Forest, in Winston-Salem, N.C., turned out to be that place.

In addition to getting a degree in either business or education, Goff hopes that playing for the Demon Deacons will be the next step on the path to a professional baseball career. This past summer, he was selected in the 50th round of the Major League draft by the Colorado Rockies, the same team that chose last year’s Hammer Strength Player of the Year, Ian Stewart.

“If pro baseball doesn’t work out, I would like to come back home and be a coach,” says Goff. His coaching may have started already, as he has been a tremendous influence on his younger brother, Pat. “We have a lot of fun together,” he says. “Pat tries to emulate me in everything he does—taping his wrists, wearing eye black, and kicking the dirt around. It’s so much fun to watch because he looks like a mini-me.”

One attribute that makes Goff a great baseball player is his love for all aspects of the game. “Andy’s the only kid I’ve ever seen who enjoys taking ground balls as much as he likes taking batting practice,” says Saghy. “Baseball is not a job. Practice is not work. It’s just doing what he loves to do. His passion and love for the game makes it seem like he’s just going out and having fun.

“I’ve had a lot of kids who have passion,” Saghy continues. “I’ve had a lot of kids who had tons of talent, but he’s the first I can say that had the combination of both, and that sets him apart from all his peers.”


AWARD RUNNERS UP

The selection of the Hammer Strength Baseball Player of the Year Award winner was a formidable task due to the high quality of the candidate pool. The following are other finalists who deserve an honorable mention for their outstanding achievements.

MACK BROWN, Shawnee Mission North High School, Shawnee, Kans. Coach Joe Gunderson. A junior first baseman, Mack batted .435 with 15 RBIs in the cleanup spot. He is a three-year letterman in baseball, basketball, and football, and was All-League in all three sports. He is a member of Leadership 20-20, which includes the top academic students at his school, and is a peer mediator for his class.

EVAN COOK, Sebastian River High School, Sebastian, Fla. Coach George Young. A junior catcher, Evan captained his team to an undefeated season in the Treasure Lake Conference. He hit .371, with a team-leading 21 RBIs and .622 slugging percentage. Defensively, he threw out 55 percent of opposing base stealers. He made an amazing comeback after breaking his leg in the summer of 2003. An honor roll student in the rigorous Medical Academy at his high school, he plans to pursue a career in sports medicine.

CASEY HERALD, Tazewell High School, Tazewell, Va. Coach Lucian Peery. A senior pitcher-outfielder who was named All-Southwest District Player of the Year, Casey was chosen to the district and regional teams at both positions. He was All-League and All-Region in three consecutive years. As a senior, Herald was 7-1 with a 0.80 ERA, and 103 strikeouts in 52 innings. He batted .364 with 10 RBIs. Herald has compiled a 3.7 GPA, volunteers at a local hospital, and plans to study pre-med at Virginia Tech.

CASEY HUGHES, Cameron High School, Cameron, W. Va. Coach Eric James. Casey was a senior infielder who hit .455 with five homers, 10 doubles, 42 RBIs, and 24 steals in 31 games. He was All-State in football and baseball, and won two state wrestling championships. The treasurer of his senior class, Hughes finished in the top 10 of his class with a 3.8 GPA.

ROBBIE KELLEY, Springboro High School, Springboro, Ohio. Coach Mark
Pelfrey. Robbie played shortstop in his senior year, batting .484 with an on-base percentage of .619. He scored a school-record 49 runs in 28 games, and was hit by a pitch 12 times for another school record. Kelley has outstanding range and a strong arm. A three-time All-League performer on the diamond, Robbie was named league Player of the Year in soccer, while also starting in basketball. He captained all three sports. Kelley carried a 3.9 GPA in college prep courses and was nominated for Academic All-State. He will attend Xavier University on a scholarship.

CORY MYERS, Newcomerstown High School, Newcomerstown, Ohio. Coach Jeffrey Guilliams. A three-year starter at first base, Cory batted .354 and fielded .967 in 21 games. He received his team’s Ironman Award for never missing a practice or a game. He also spends time at the local senior center, playing cards with elderly members of his community. Myers is a leader in many student organizations. Ranking fourth in his senior class, he had a 3.91 GPA and was a delegate to Buckeye Boys’ State in the summer of 2003.

CAMERON PETTY, Crane Tech Prep, Chicago, Ill. Coach David Penn. This junior pitcher went 5-2 this past spring, pitching 68.3 innings with 94 strikeouts and just 23 walks, and he received All-Conference honors. Cameron is always a leader—on the field, in strength training, and in the classroom. He is a member of the National Honor Society with a 3.5 GPA, and plans to enroll at Clark Atlanta University in 2005.

KEVIN ROCK, Warren Mott High School, Warren, Mich. Coach Shawn Maloney. Playing through a wrist injury, Kevin hit .311 with 18 RBIs in 26 games. He earned All-District for the third straight year, and was also All-League and All-County as a third baseman. He also played shortstop and did some relief pitching. Rock was chosen Academic All-District and All-Region. He will attend community college in the fall.