Oshkosh-born players relish opportunity to play with hometown Giants

July 1, 2012

Having such a homegrown flavor on the squad is a bit out of the norm for the squad, which is usually stocked solely with University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh players.

Wisconsin State League

Trey Demler remembered playing with Tyler Willman on the Oshkosh West baseball team when he was a senior and Willman was a junior.

Willman, Demler recalled, was a decent pitcher that season for the Wildcats. Not the best hurler in the Fox Valley Association, but certainly capable of getting outs in a good baseball league.

Now teammates again with the Oshkosh Giants, Demler is getting to see a different version of his teammate.

“I graduated and went away and all of a sudden he developed into this Division I pitcher and he’s outstanding now,” Demler said. “I didn’t get to see him for a year and develop into that player and so now to come back and be able to play with him again is really cool.”

Demler, Willman and Nick Heitman, an Oshkosh North graduate, are all spending their summer playing with the hometown amateur baseball team. Oshkosh Lourdes alum Michael Schmidt also recently joined the squad, which plays in both the Northeastern Wisconsin Baseball League and the Wisconsin State League.

Having such a homegrown flavor on the squad is a bit out of the norm for the squad, which is usually stocked solely with University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh players.

Yet, it’s a nice change, according to the team’s general manager, Tony Gerharz, who coached both Demler and Willman at West.

“It’s nice to have the guys that stay around here and play with the Giants,” Gerharz said. “The local guys are great to have around. They bring in a little more fans and that always helps.

“In the 1970s and 1980s we started out with all local guys and then the league got pretty competitive and very few of the teams … you can’t survive with just local guys.”

The players like the opportunity, too.

“It’s really nice,” said Willman, who completed his freshman season at Western Illinois. “It’s nice being able to play at home at least to have my friends and family come out to any game.”

Being a part of the same teams is nothing new for Willman and Heitman either, despite playing for rival Oshkosh high schools as preps.

The two have been teammates on summer squads since the age of 9, and immediately found one another when the Giants’ season began.

“Right away, when we first started playing we kind of gravitated toward each other,” Heitman said. “Definitely makes it a lot easier. It’s always easier to talk to one person and then branch out rather than trying to do it on your own.”

Demler was in the unique position of filling both definitions of a Giants’ player.

He obviously was from Oshkosh and just completed his first spring playing with the Titans. He also played for the Giants last summer.

“It was nice that Trey was there and helped me get to know the guys. He was actually a big help,” Willman said. “I like the familiarity with playing with the guys and both the guys are awesome teammates and good friends and I’m very thankful to be playing with the Giants and those two guys.”

Demler, Willman and Heitman are all taking to the diamond with certain things in mind, too.

Demler, who is currently sidelined with an injury, looks to continue to sharpen his skills after stepping away from the game to focus on football. He went to the University of North Dakota on a football scholarship after graduating from West, but when he returned decided to get back to playing baseball.

When healthy, every at bat and every inning played helps build his base of game experience.

“For awhile, my childhood dream was always to go on and play baseball,” Demler said. “It’s nice to play on the field I grew up playing on. After I went away to school, I thought I’d never have the privilege of doing it again.”

Willman saw limited action in his freshman season with the Leathernecks and sees the Giants’ 35-game schedule as may to take ample trips to the mound.

“I just want to become a better pitcher,” said Willman, who turned down a chance to pitch for the Green Bay Bullforgs to stay closer to home. “I need to get more innings this summer. I hope to get a lot of innings and then just overall become a better pitcher.”

Heitman, along with Schmidt, did not play college baseball this spring but found he missed the sport when the weather started warming up.

Playing with the Giants is another opportunity to keep going to the diamond.

“I just kind of wanted to get back into baseball and playing it again. I missed it. Now, I’m just trying to get better,” Heitman said. “It’s different, a different atmosphere, playing with a bunch of college kids as opposed to high school. I’m really glad I got the opportunity to do it.”

One thing they all share by playing with the Giants is the chance to compete in front of family and friends.

“It’s nice to play in front of your family and friends and close to home,” Demler said. “You get a little more motivation, I guess. When you have family and friends out to watch, you want to put on a good show.”

Added Willman: “I like to have people watching me and actually do better when there are people there watching me.”

One other thing the three of them share is the desire to have the Giants get back to winning.

Oshkosh claimed one Wisconsin State League title in its history — in 1988 — and the past couple of seasons have been a bit lean in the victory column.

So far this year, though, Oshkosh is off to an 8-5 start in the WSL, good for third place, while its 6-3 mark in the NWBL had them at the top of league.

“That would be great. It would show that the guys from Oshkosh can still do it,” Heitman said. “It’s not just a UWO team it’s an Oshkosh team.”

Story by: The Oshkosh Northwestern

The Wisconsin State League is one of the premier semi-professional/amateur baseball leagues in the mid-west. In operation since 1970, the Wisconsin State League is a highly competitive league that features many of the midwest's top current and former collegiate athletes, as well as many former professional baseball players. Keep up to date on everything happening in the Wisconsin State League by following the league online on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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