It was a tournament the Port Huron baseball players won’t forget.
And for head coach Kyle Sheppard, it was for a reason he’ll never forget either.
Last weekend the Big Reds headed down to Cincinnati for the four-team Reid Rizzo Tournament for a few reasons. It was to build up team chemistry, take on some serious Ohio talent and, most importantly, to remember a player Sheppard once knew.
Rizzo – a player Sheppard recruited to Lake Erie College – unexpectedly passed away after his sophomore year of college from cardiomyopathy in 2012.
Not a day has gone by where Sheppard doesn’t think of Rizzo, and bringing his team down to Ohio to honor him made for a great weekend on that alone.
“It was something that I really wanted to do,” Sheppard said. “We were the first team in the four years that had a connection to Reid. I told my players about my experience and the last time I saw him and what that was like.”
The last time Sheppard saw Rizzo was two months before his passing to see him play for Lake Erie College. Four years later he still remembers the day, and how Reid was upset with a takeout slide before Sheppard offered advice on his footwork.
He also shared with his team the kind of player Rizzo was and why Sheppard recruited him.
“He told us a story on how he recruited him and how he may not have been the biggest and best player but his work ethic really shined,” Port Huron senior Dallas Mitchell said.
Four years later, he was back at La Salle High School – Rizzo’s alma mater – wearing a shirt and bracelet to commemorate him during the day of baseball.
“I don’t think I’ve gone a day without wearing that bracelet,” Sheppard said.
On the field, the Big Reds played La Salle close in a 6-4 loss, which is impressive considering they were the No. 4-ranked Division 1 team in Ohio. The Big Reds dropped their other game, but what happened outside of the tournament was arguably bigger than the games themselves.
“Our team bonding (grew),” Mitchell said. “I think we actually came together as a team and this week we started to prove it.”
The Big Reds had a few unique opportunities, starting on the University of Cincinnati’s campus.
The team got to catch the Memphis-Cincinnati rivalry on the baseball field, followed with a tour of the athletic facilities.
On Saturday night, they took in the back end of the Cincinnati Reds game after scoring tickets from people leaving the game. Not a bad way to end the weekend, especially considering a handful of players haven’t really ventured out of state before.
“It’s something these players will never forget and something I will never forget,” Sheppard said. “Maybe we’ll go back in a couple of years, and it meant a lot to me and a couple of guys.”