St. Rita champs put faith, family before baseball

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, May 31, 2015

St. Rita champs put faith, family before baseball

Cal Greenfield and Mike Smith hone their hitting skills during practice at St. Rita High School on May 20. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Head Coach Mike Zunica pitches balls to his players during baseball practice at St Rita High School on May 20. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

You could say St. Rita High School varsity baseball has had its share of success.

The team, with a 28-4 record, was ranked number one in the nation by USA Today at one point this year. On Memorial Day weekend, it remained in the top 25.

But for veteran coach Mike Zunica, that’s not the only success that counts.

Zunica said that when he first meets with his players, he tells them everything is important: not just baseball skills, but their priorities and dedication.

“We make sure they know that their priorities are faith and family first, and then St. Rita baseball,” Zunica said. “And when they’re here, when they’re on the field, all their focus has to be here.”

With 19 years as head coach, Zunica said he no longer has to do too much to make sure his players understand what’s expected of them.

“The new guys come in and see the way the older guys go about their business, they see the way the older guys conduct themselves, and they know what to do. It’s a little bit of a challenge initially, but within about three weeks, they’re getting it. Our seniors are usually on board, and if the seniors are on board it all rolls downhill.”

Pitcher Matt Ryan, 18, said the seniors take their job seriously. They work out with the younger players before official practices start, get to know them and teach them the way St. Rita baseball players do things.

“Really us seniors have to step up and run those practices,” said Ryan, who intends to go to Butler University with a baseball scholarship and study journalism.

“From freshman year until now, that’s just the way it has been. I really learned this last year that to lead, it truly is a privilege.”

Catcher Grant Mullin, 18, said the seniors lead by example.

“Seniors show them the ropes, how to be a better teammate, how to give 110 percent,” said Mullin, who plans to attend Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, with a baseball scholarship. “All the players on the team go to St Rita to play baseball. That’s what we go there for — to be successful. I know 90 percent of our seniors take it very seriously.”

That’s one reason St. Rita’s success has built on itself from year to year, Zunica said. The young men who choose St. Rita know what will be demanded of them because of the track record established by the school and the team.

“They know they are going to have to conduct themselves appropriately not just on the field but academically, in the hallways, in the way they dress,” Zunica said. “They’ve made a vested choice to come here. We attract a kid who wants to get better every day.”

To maintain its connection to the faith, the team prays before every game, and sometimes after games if there is a special situation, such as a player with a family member who is ill.

If the team is together on a Sunday, everyone goes to Mass together. “We’re never hesitant to pray,” Zunica said.

Ryan and Mullin both said that their time on the field at St. Rita has made them into better people: more determined, more hardworking, better teammates, tougher mentally. They give the credit for that to Zunica.

“He’s taught me to accept failure and keep trying,” Mullin said, noting that baseball is known for being a sport where a player is successful when he fails 70 percent of the time. “We want to win for him.”

For his part, Zunica wants to talk about the players on his team, especially those who graduate this spring.

The program boasts 13 players going on to play college baseball; the average for high school baseball teams is one player every other year, Zunica said.

“We’re pretty happy about that,” he said.


  • catholic schools
  • baseball
  • st. rita high school

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