With retirement looming, 20-year Central League vet hopes to go out a champ with 'loaded' Stoverstown team

RYAN VANDERSLOOT
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Austin Rickrode, right, is seen here scoring a run and celebrating a Stoverstown victory.

It was 20 years ago when Austin Rickrode started playing in the Central League.

Back then, Rickrode looked up to the veterans of the York-area baseball circuit, wishing to someday follow in their footsteps.

Some of the players that Rickrode admired included CL greats such as Kelly Raber, Ryan and Brendan Reinert, Shawn Hedrick, Eric Dowling, Tim Thoman and Curly Holtzapple, just to name a few.

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“I really did look up to those guys,” Rickrode said. “All of those guys that put in 20-25 years, and I always thought that it would be crazy if I could do that.”

Suffice it say, Rickrode has lived up to his own expectations.

At 37 years old, Rickrode is one of the so-called "old-timers" who is still around for the first-place Stoverstown Tigers.

So, too, is teammate Zach Schuler, another 20-year veteran of the local sandlot circuit.

Both Rickrode and Schuler plan to retire after this season to focus more on their young children. At least one of those kids could very well one day follow in his father’s footsteps.

“My 7-year-old, Landon, he’s learning the fundamentals this year,” said Rickrode, who confirmed he plans to turn to coaching after this season. “He’s playing for one of the guys that I played with at Pleasureville and I think it’s kind of cool to see other guys and their techniques.”

Stoverstown's Austin Rickrode is a 20-year Central League veteran. He plans to retire at the end of the season.

The realization that the end is near hasn’t been daunting for the Stoverstown duo so far.

Playing for a strong squad: If you ask Rickrode, it certainly doesn’t hurt that his final squad may be one of the best he’s ever played with.

“This team is loaded,” Rickrode said. “The core lineup has been together for a number of years now. They all hustle and just play the game the right way and I think that’s something that Tim (Thoman) and Matt (Spangler) have instilled as coaches over the years.

“And you just really can’t touch the talent-level of this team. Any one of the top-eight guys in our lineup can take a pitcher deep at any moment so, it’s a lot of fun to be a part of. And it’s such a great group of guys, and even outside of baseball we still all hang out together.”

Off to a 10-0 start: Spangler, who stepped in when Thoman handed off control of the organization midway through last season, credits players, such as Schuler and Rickrode, for making his transition from assistant to manager a relatively smooth one. After a 7-5 victory Tuesday against rival Glen Rock, Spangler and the Tigers have a perfect 10-0 record to start the 2022 CL campaign.

“The guys have been great,” Spangler said. “It’s a working-man’s league, but, that said, I don’t really have to chase a lot of guys down. They let me know when they’re going to be there and when they can’t.”

A different era: That last statement is one that Rickrode never envisioned hearing from a manager in the Central League. Back when he started in 2002, the expectation was that all players would be available 100% of the time for the team, no matter what.

Rickrode found out the consequences of that early in his career when he missed a playoff game.

“In my first year at Dover in 2008, Kelly Raber got mad at me because I missed Game 1 of the playoffs because I was going to my sister’s wedding,” Rickrode said. “And that’s just not something you didn’t … you never missed games. And, if I wasn’t in the wedding, I probably would have gone late.”

Going out a champion? Despite the hot start to the season for the Tigers, Rickrode is a bit superstitious about talking about the team’s success to this point.

“I’ve seen a lot of good teams back in my day,” Rickrode said. “It’s only 10 games, but it’s certainly a good feeling.”

If all goes well, Rickrode, hopes to go out as a champion. That would include a CL regular-season crown, a York County Championship and a Tom Kerrigan Memorial Tournament title, an event the Tigers nearly won last year, falling in the finals.

“That would be great,” Rickrode said.

Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ydsports.