GILBERTVILLE — Don Bosco senior Bryce Schares is likely to reflect back on the start of his baseball career this Father’s Day weekend.
With a passion for the game and dreams of one day playing at the highest level, Schares never had to look far to find someone willing to throw batting practice or play catch. His dad, Greg, was an avid baseball fan always available after school.
“I know he got off work sometimes and it was hot out,” Bryce Schares recalls, reflecting back on his father’s baseball influence. “He was just always pushing and he’d come down and throw at least a bucket (of batting practice balls). We could go play catch or anything. He always wanted to do it and I think it’s because he saw how much talent there was and how much I really wanted to do it.”
Schares — a returning all-state catcher signed to pitch at Southeastern Community College — has emerged as one of the veteran leaders within a Don Bosco team that opened the season with 11 wins prior to Monday’s 5-3 loss against Janesville. He improved to 3-0 as a pitcher last weekend with eight strikeouts during a victory over Class 2A’s No. 5 Dyersville Beckman, and is batting .500 in the middle of the Dons’ lineup.
“So far this year his control has been really good,” Don Bosco coach Blaine Rhoads said of Schares, who possesses an effective two-seam fastball that can reach the high 80’s. “He gets a lot of swings and misses so that tells me his ball is moving a lot.
“Having him (batting) in the middle of the order has been key for us. Whatever the pitcher is giving him, he takes the ball that way, and he’s had a lot of big hits for us this year.”
Schares has assembled a 17-2 career record as a pitcher since his eighth grade year, while also excelling behind the plate last season in his first full year as the Dons’ primary catcher.
“He totally shuts down the running game from the opponent,” Rhoads said. “Teams don’t run when he’s behind the plate because he’s got such a strong arm.”
While catching, Shares’ personality comes to life. He often chats up the umpires in attempt to make a good impression. That extends to mound visits where Schares tries to lighten the mood.
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“I don’t think I ever say anything serious when I walk out there,” Schares recalls. “It’s a joke every time. The other night at Riverfront Stadium, I walked up and said, ‘I just want some music to play, honestly, I don’t really have anything to say to you.’
“That’s what I want when I’m a pitcher out there. Baseball is such a long game, so I decide to break the seriousness every once and a while.”
Added Rhoads, “Bryce is a likable kid. If kids like you, they’re going to listen to you and you can calm kids down. Bryce is a very likable guy.”
While some seniors are more inclined to back off their extra-curricular workload, Schares has done the opposite this year. He was a member of Don Bosco’s state championship wrestling team, and also went back out for football and track and field, where he hurdled in addition to competing in the throws.
“I really wanted to do four sports my senior year, especially because I know this is it and I want to spend as much time with my friends as possible,” Schares said. “It was such a great time. The four sports you learn so much about yourself and you learn so much more about your body and what it does that you never knew. I never know I could hurdle, and I wasn’t half bad at it.”
Even with his involvement in other sports, Schares continues to invest plenty of time into developing as a baseball player. Prior to the season, he’d make routine trips to Cedar Rapids to work with Perfect Game pitching coach Mike Russ and then meet up with his Don Bosco teammates in Gilbertville for workouts.
“I kind of feel bad sometimes when I go down and do my own thing in Cedar Rapids for pitching lessons and then these guys are up here doing their team stuff,” Schares said. “It’s tough. I always try to make it back for at least the last half hour so I can be with the guys and whatever they need. I love being around those guys.”
With memories of watching his cousin catch for a 2008 team that finished as a state runner-up still in his mind, Schares says the Dons are driven to try and secure their tradition-rich program’s first championship since 1978. He then looks forward to joining Southeastern’s successful team.
“I want to see what I can develop into and what strides I can take down there,” Schares said.