Libertyville’s Pastime

Alex Zoellick, Editor-in-Chief

Few things warm the hearts of the American people more than their national pastime. The grace with which infielders turn a double play, the methodical nature with which a pitcher delivers his best stuff, and the sheer power used to project the ball unimaginable distances have all pleased the souls of fans for more than a century. A connection exists between the players and fans — an unrivaled passion for the game rarely seen on both sides of the fence. But recently, the game has been tainted by greed, watered-down by player egos and battered by years of cheating.

As the stage changes from the MLB to the IHSA, where players play for the love of the game, and not for the money, it thrives. Where players still enjoy the scent of fresh-cut grass in the morning, where the morning dew on the infield is enough to raise the excitement for a game, where the mutual respect between teams still means something, the game thrives.

Baseball thrives at Libertyville High School.

With the departure of prolific hitter Evan Skoug, the Wildcats are without one of the best young players in all of baseball. Skoug graduated last year and is currently playing for the number-8 ranked Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, where he is playing well. Through 34 games, he is batting .284 with three home runs and 25 RBI, according to Baseball Cube. To fill the void left by Skoug (and the three other Division I players from last year) the Wildcats will look toward two of this year’s captains to fill the void: seniors Jimmy Govern and Mitch Townsend.

“Last year’s team was obviously a pretty dynamic group with Evan being one of the big hitters, focal point, no pun intended,” said head baseball coach Mr. Jim Schurr. “Behind the plate he was there for four years. It’s hard to replace someone who has sured up that spot. He was known as ‘the guy’ for a long time.”

Another key loss was that of Jeff Barton, who currently pitches for Illinois State University. Barton was looked at as one of the shutdown men in the team’s rotation.

“I was remissed to not mention Jeff Barton as well. He was one of the big seniors we missed from last year. Jeff is playing at Illinois State right now and pitching well. The guys are working to fill in those voids, with Mitch coming back from rehab, the other guys that are throwing right now are having to carry their workload and step up,” Coach Schurr said.

As of April 19, the team is 6-6 (2-3 in conference) with two upcoming games against Lake Zurich.

Jimmy Govern: Dynamic Offense, Sound Defense.

Govern is not afraid of the spotlight. After starting at shortstop and leading off in the batting order the last two seasons, including the 2013 run to the state finals, Govern will see an even bigger role this year.

Currently in his third year as the starting varsity shortstop, Govern will be looked upon to fill big shoes in the batting order. After batting leadoff his first two seasons, Govern now bats third (Skoug’s former spot), where he is looked at to drive in runs, rather than trying to get on base and into scoring position, as leadoff hitters do. To this point in the season, he is hitting .488 with 13 runs and 14 RBI.

Govern will also be looked at to lead the team. He leads by example and looks to inspire his teammates through his hard work and overall dedication to the sport.

“Both of them (Govern and Townsend) were voted captains by their peers, so from a leadership standpoint, they can not only be verbal but also lead by example and let other guys know ‘I was in your shoes a few years ago,’” coach Schurr said. “The seniors rallied the underclassmen a few years ago. I’m hoping they do that for our younger guys. The leadership they bring to the table every day I hope is going to rub off on the rest of our guys.”

As the shortstop of the team, he is viewed as the leader on defense; short is usually the most active of the infield positions. Govern is very comfortable at short because of  his years of experience with the position, which began at the age of 6 playing tee ball at Butler Park. After a few seasons of Little League, Govern transitioned to Libertyville’s travel baseball program when he turned 9. To this day, his former travel teammates and experience still impact the way he plays.

“Jake Vogt’s dad was our coach for the longest time, and Mitch’s (Townsend) dad,” reminisced Govern. “They just instilled in all of us [to] play scrappy, play hard-nosed baseball, work your butt off. And then having teammates like RJ (Ryan Jackson) and Nick (Rosetti), we’ve played together since we were 7 or 8. Everyone loves each other and it’s a great environment to play in.”

Govern’s history playing the game, as well as his work ethic, have helped propel him to be a college-level athlete. During the offseason, Govern trains year-round for baseball, whether that be running sprints, lifting at Synergy, hitting at Slammers, or doing the off-season team workouts. His consistent effort over the past three seasons has earned him a scholarship to play at Eastern Illinois University next year, where he will see playing time immediately, something that was important to him when deciding. In committing to EIU, Govern turned down Air Force, Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois (where he would have played with preferred walk-on status).

“[Eastern] gave me the money I wanted and I just felt like it was the right fit,” Govern said. “The biggest thing for me was getting playing time right away, getting the opportunity, and that’s what they gave me. I just want a chance to play; sitting on the bench would kill me.”

Mitch Townsend: Back in the swing of things.

Townsend came face-to-face with the most infamous name in baseball this past off season: Tommy John. Townsend needed reconstructive elbow surgery following his junior season and is hoping to return to his previous form this year. This is Townsend’s third season as a member of the varsity team, where he will be used as more of a first baseman and cleanup hitter than a pitcher.

Though right now it seems Townsend won’t spend much time pitching, his coaches and teammates expect he will be just as, if not more, effective as years past. This outlook is a testament to Townsend’s work ethic, as Tommy John surgery is one of the most difficult to return from in all of sports. The well-known reconstructive surgery consists of the replacement of one elbow tendon (the UCL or Ulnar Collateral Ligament ) with a tendon from another part of the body.

“I worked hard through rehab and physical therapy. At first it was tough, but I learned to be patient and not to rush anything,” Townsend said.

One of the more challenging tasks of returning from any type of injury, let alone something as devastating as Tommy John, is the mental game.

“I think psychologically overcoming the injury [is the hardest part],” varsity baseball assistant coach and pitching coach Mr. Dan Gooris said about coming back from Tommy John. “There are some people who get hurt, they rehab, and they pick up right where they left off. Other people have a mental hurdle to overcome; I don’t know if that is going to apply to Mitch. He seems to have taken everything in stride and not gotten down on anything. He very easily could have gotten down. It’s his senior year and he isn’t pitching, but he is working toward making himself better than he was before and having the opportunity to continue his playing career.”

Townsend isn’t scared of the mental barriers. He feels he will be ready for the season and return just as good of a player.

“I think my arm will be at the same level or stronger when I come back. Most people come back even stronger,” said Townsend.

Govern, who has been a longtime teammate of Townsend’s, shares his teammate’s optimistic view.

“He was so dominant before, of course. No one really knows how you are going to do after that surgery because it is reconstructive elbow surgery,” Govern said. “He has been throwing bullpens and he looks just like he did before. It is really exciting because he has been the best pitcher since we were 9, so it’s great to see him back.”

Though it is uncertain if Townsend will have the chance to pitch this season, one thing’s for sure and that is he will be looked at as a leader on the team. As one of the captains on the team, he can be looked to lead by example. However, his sense of humor allows him to help the team bond, as well as lift the spirits of his teammates.

“He always keeps everyone light-hearted, keeps everyone not nervous,” Govern said. “He is that guy in the clubhouse that you need that always cracks jokes in any situation. It keeps everyone loose. He is just a funny kid.”

On the field, Townsend is looked at to fill the position many big hitters fill: first base. His sound fielding and big bat make him the ideal candidate to fill the vital position. Usually as the fourth of fifth hitter, Townsend is looked at to clear the bases as often as he can.

Though Townsend doesn’t yet have any college offers, he hopes to continue playing at the next level.

“They are both good enough to play at the next level,” Coach Schurr said. “[Govern] has already committed to playing at Eastern and [Townsend] is certainly good enough to play at the next level, once he is 100% better.”