STORM CENTER: A COLUMN WRITTEN
BY SPORTS EDITOR ERIC VICCARO
One generation ago, select travel baseball was a foreign concept in Ste. Genevieve County.
That was until current University of Missouri head baseball coach Steve Bieser had the idea to create such a program here.
Bieser, who graduated from Ste. Genevieve in 1985 and had a cup of coffee in the majors with the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates, began what eventually became the RiverDogs you see on ball fields today.
The program — which started in 2003 — has grown to roughly 100 players, including two teams in the 12-under division.
One 12-under team plays primarily a Triple-A slate, and the other Double-A. Both teams are about player development — especially with all of these players closing in on playing at the high school level.
Jeff Viox served as the head coach of the Triple-A team this year, and the group met with plenty of success — going 26-13-1. The RiverDogs made the championship game in six tournaments.
Jeff’s son, Evan, a seventh-grader at Valle Catholic Middle School, is one of the players on the roster. This has allowed father and son time to create special memories on the diamond.
“Obviously, it’s special,” said Viox, a former Valle Catholic shortstop. “Baseball is my passion, and it’s Evan’s as well. It’s our favorite sport, and I am enjoying watching him grow as a player.”
Jeff Basler said the 12-under “AA” team learned a lot this season, and the team recorded a pair of second-place finishes at tournaments in St. Charles and Sikeston.
With more than 20 players to choose from in the 12-under age group, it’s easy to see why the RiverDogs have become a prominent program.
Boys start playing in the 8-under division, which is machine pitch.
“Every kid gets six balls (pitched), and they have to hit one of them,” said 8-under coach Jeff Basler. Machine-pitch baseball also has special rules for base running, and the kids adjust to the guidelines well, Basler said.
The 8-under group finished with a record of 25-10, reaching the gold bracket in several tournaments, and winning in Arnold twice and Perryville once.