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Making my pitch
Sports Editor Growing up, I wanted to be the next Michael Jack Schmidt. I went to bed listening to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, dreaming of hitting a game-winning home run over the left field fence, and circling the bases to loud cheers.
Guess how that worked out?
These days, the only yard work I’m doing is with my self-propelled John Deere push lawnmower.
But in Lititz and beyond, on the pitch at the Gerhart fields, Bomberger fields and everywhere else that has a pair of soccer nets, kids of all ages are fantasizing about becoming the next Andrew Wenger. They are imagining themselves making these slick moves past a defender, leaving everyone in their dust and filling the net with goals — or stripping an attacker of the ball in the final seconds of a game to preserve yet another shutout.
The amazing thing is that Andrew is still only 21 years old. When you think about all that he has accomplished in his career already, it seems hard to believe that he’s only two years removed from his teenage years. Heck, I think back to when I was 21, and my biggest accomplishment was weaning myself off of a two Big Macs, extra large fries Value Meal.
If there’s an accolade out there that Andrew hasn’t achieved, I don’t know what it is. I could fill this space with his list of honors and awards, and when you think that he has been named National High School Player of the Year, a three-time All-ACC First Team recipient, the Hermann Trophy winner, and then to go number one in the Major League Soccer (MLS) draft last Thursday, Andrew is at the top of his sport.
But yet the refreshing part about all of it is that Andrew gets it. Unfortunately, I’ve come across people in my line of work who don’t get it. They might be immensely talented, but their ego and arrogance reduce them to being very small.
Andrew is not one of those people. Two weeks ago, his grandfather, Mr. Henry Gibbel, was kind enough to relay Andrew’s cell phone number to me following the presentation of the Hermann Trophy. I texted Andrew, who was in Los Angeles at the time with the U.S. Under-23 National team, and within minutes, he texted me back and we established a good time to talk later in the afternoon.
Then this past Monday, I again texted Andrew and asked him to call me so we could talk about his selection in the MLS SuperDraft. Once again, despite his hectic schedule, we connected over the phone and he patiently gave up 20 minutes of his time answering every one of my questions.
Former Sixers’ player Charles Barkley is probably one of my all-time favorite NBA stars. But one of the things he is famous for is the Nike commercial in which he states, "I am not a role model." Unfortunately, whether Barkley wanted to be or not, there were a lot of young players who looked at him to be one in his playing days.
During our conversation on Monday, Andrew talked about that topic of being a role model and said, "It’s an honor and I hope I do a good job of it."
Another aspect about him that came across is that there is no sense of entitlement with Andrew. We talked about how the Montreal coaches plan to bring him along slowly instead of throwing him right into the fire. Based on the stuff you read on different Internet sites, experts were writing that he had the ability to come in and start right away. So even if the Impact’s coaches are planning to play him at a reasonable pace, you might figure that he is going to see the field plenty in 2012.
But he didn’t budge when I said, "You’ll still get your share of minutes, right?"
His response was, "Assuming I deserve that. I think the coaches will make roster decisions and game day selections depending on who’s deserving and what’s needed and we’ll see how that works out as time goes on."
Without being asked, Steve Klein, his former PA Classics coach, discussed Andrew’s character as well. "I think he’s just put together well with good character," Klein said. "And that’s what you need. I’ve talked to both of those guys (Wenger and Zarek Valentin) about it, that they need to keep their heads on straight as they go through all these stages. You can’t let stuff go to your head. Character-wise, they’re both strong kids and that’s really helped them out … (Andrew)’s a mature kid and he understands that there’s a fine between the guys that make it and the guys that don’t."
Warwick soccer coach Dale Stoltzfus added, "I continue to be very proud and happy for Andrew and how well he has been able to stay focused and work extremely hard toward his dream. The continued success does not surprise me because of his strong family support and how good of a student-athlete he was during his four years at Warwick."
My colleagues Andy Fasnacht, Todd Ruth and Steve Seeber and I watched the draft on ESPN on our computers last week, and all of us were thrilled when Andrew was selected with the top overall pick.
Andy then lent some perspective when he remarked, "It’s unprecedented, really." At least in the coverage area of the Lititz Record and Ephrata Review, former Ephrata standout pitcher Brad Crills is only one who comes close to what Andrew achieved in terms of the pro ranks. Brad was a 20th-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 1994.
Here’s hoping that Andrew has a long and successful career in soccer, and congratulations to both him and his family. More PITCH, page B-8