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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Watching Sons Play Brings Back Memories for Five Highlands Baseball Fathers

Five Highlands Seniors Build Generational Highlands Tradition

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Five former Highlands baseball players from the 1980s and early 1990s have senior sons on this year's team. They are. from left. Lance Turner, Nolan Turner, Joe Grimme, Steven Grimme, Todd Johnson, Trent Johnson, Jim Greene, Casey Greene, Chris Schwalbach and Cooper Schwalbach.
The realization hit 1991 Highlands graduate Joe Grimme when he saw the wall for Highlands Bluebirds alumni to sign.

Grimme pitched during his time at Highlands. Grimme and several other former players from the 1980s and early 1990s have senior sons on this year's team. Grimme's son Steven is also a pitcher. Joe Grimme graduated with former Highlands catcher Lance Turner and also played when Todd Johnson (1989) and Chris Schwalbach (1988) played. Their sons are pitcher Nolan Turner, catcher/designated hitter Trent Johnson and center fielder Cooper Schwalbach respectively. Jim Greene (1981) also has a senior son on the team in outfielder Casey Greene.

Current Head Coach Jeremy Baioni (1997) remembers watching those players. He recalled the Highlands baseball team being region runner-up one season.

"When I was growing up, those guys were just a year or two older than my brother when he played here so I remember watching those guys play, watching them compete," Baioni said. "It's really neat to see them have their kids coming through the program and still how invested those guys are as parents and how invested their kids are. Part of the reason we wanted to come here and coach is to get it back to those days where it's something you can be proud of. It's a really, really cool thing."

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Jim Greene also saw his older son Bradley (Class of 2017) play for the Bluebirds. Both sons have helped the Bluebirds to four consecutive 9th Region championships and two state runner-up finishes. Jim Greene played center field during his playing days.

"It brings back a lot of really great memories playing for Highlands," Jim Greene said. "It's really great to see this next generation enjoy it as much as I did. I've coached my kids since T-Ball at YMCA in Fort Thomas. It was all about having fun first and foremost. It's also about the relationships that they make and form along the way. It was the same way when I played ball. Those guys I played with on the team are some of my best friends today."

Casey Greene has played a pivotal role as a pinch runner this year. Casey Greene and his older brothers Ryan (2014) and Bradley also played football. Casey Greene helped the Bluebirds to a 10-3 season this past fall.

"It's definitely fun trying to make your own mark and soaking everything up because it's almost over," Casey Greene said. "I'm trying to have fun with every moment we have together. It goes by quick and before you know it, you're moving on and you're going to miss everything that you had."

Steven Grimme said his dad coached him and his two younger brothers growing up. Steven Grimme said Joe Grimme taught him a huge lesson on gripping the ball before pitching it.

"He taught me how to throw a curve ball in a way that prevents breaking my wrist," Steven Grimme said. "He's always taught me a way to throw a curve ball a different way than most people because Tommy John is obviously a huge deal with most peoples' arms. I'm not twisting my arm at all so I feel like it's a lot safer. I know these other pitchers that have arm problems. Mine never really hurt that much. That's a big thing."

Steven Grimme pitched in the state championship game last year along with seniors Grady Cramer and Tanner Juett. Some other players such as sophomore Jacob Gulley have also stepped forward this year on the mound.

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"It's tough losing (2018 graduate Drew Rom and Hunter Dreves) but honestly, I think if anything, we've got a deeper pitching staff," Joe Grimme said. "He's going to enjoy his senior year. He's looking forward to it. I think the experience he got last year along with the other guys that are on staff hopefully will give them enough experience to get them through the season. They may not have two guys that are Division I commits, but they have four solid, consistent throwers that overall will give them a more balanced pitching staff in my opinion."

Todd Johnson also caught like Trent does. Todd Johnson coached a lot of the current players in little league baseball.

"I'm super proud of him obviously as a Dad playing here and being an alumni here," Todd Johnson said. "Seeing those guys do as well as they've done, winning all those region championships, seeing them be able to have the opportunity to play at the state games. It's just a dream come true for a father."

Trent Johnson said he has enjoyed playing sports since he was young. Trent Johnson also started three years on the Highlands offensive line and played some on the defensive line.

"My Dad has been there for me obviously since I was born," Trent Johnson said. "He influenced me to play sports. He would teach me how to swing, how to throw, how to catch the right way. He was super patient with me when I was younger. You know how it is. It's been really fun. I know he's enjoyed watching me grow up, watching me develop. It's been really cool."

Lance Turner has been really impressed with how the Highlands battery has worked together this year. Senior Bryce Ziegler returned with catching experience this year.

"They've done really well. They grew up together basically," Lance Turner said. "They all get along. They're good buddies. They kind of know what each other is thinking. It's been a very good experience. That's what you want."

Nolan Turner could not be thankful enough for his dad. Some fathers do not get to see their kids play high school sports.

"It's meant a lot because I've always been a daddy's boy," Nolan Turner said. "I've always been there for him. My grandparents have always told me stories of as a kid how it was a game he loved. He enjoyed it and wishes he could get back in every single day."

Chris Schwalbach has loved watching the program grow over the years. His younger son Mason, a junior, pitches, catches and plays third base.

"It's a big change. Back when we used to play, we didn't have anything like this nor the fan support of not only the students, but the families of the kids as well," Chris Schwalbach said. "It's been nice. The field is in great condition. (There's been) a lot of help from the community getting it up and going."

During his time in high school, Cooper Schwalbach has witnessed various improvements with the home field of the Bluebirds at Highland Park. A new press box was built this year.

"It's awesome," Cooper Schwalbach said. "Our community is great and we have a great facility not just with baseball but also with football and all our other sports, too. It starts with the community. At every home game, they're always out supporting us."

Highlands is 14-4 on the season. The next game is Saturday against defending state champion Louisville St. Xavier at Highland Park at 1 p.m.

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