By DAVID JONES
GREAT MEMORIES: Reliving the glories of past Owasso baseball teams were Owasso Mayor Stephen Cataudella, former Rams pitcher Dallas Trahern, and Rams coach Larry Turner.
DAVID JONES for GTR Newspapers
On the day after Christmas, Dallas Trahern, 22, left Grand Rapids, Mich. and began the 16-hour car trek to Owasso. He arrived at his parent’s house shortly after 10 p.m. A tiring day!
Yet at 8 a.m. the next morning, Dallas could be found at the athletic field house on the Owasso High School campus teaching five to 13-year-olds how to bat, field and catch fly balls – all the fundamentals of baseball.
Its payback time to honor a sport that has not only seen Trahern succeed in the minor leagues, but become part of the first U.S. baseball Olympic team to win the gold medal since 1974. In a three-week tournament in Taiwan, Trahern pitched the U.S. to a 12-1 win over Spain, then watched as the fabled Cuban team was dethroned by the Americans 7-4.
Baseball was the center of Trahern’s life at Owasso High School. In the four years he played for the Owasso Rams, he helped bring home three 6A Championship trophies. The other year his team wound up second.
At his last high school game, as the starting shortstop he hit a home run in the first inning then watched nervously as the Rams parlayed his hit for a 1-0 victory.
Owasso has become the 800-pound gorilla of Oklahoma high school baseball. In the past 11 years Owasso has been in 10 championship games, winning six of them. This year one of their players, Pete Kozma, was the 18th pick overall in the major league draft and is now in the St. Louis Cardinals system.
Trahern planned to go to the University of Oklahoma, but after agreeing to a scholarship, the Detroit Tigers came calling. They wanted him for the other position in which he had excelled with the Rams: pitcher. As a result, he spent what could have been his freshman year at OU playing Rookie League ball for the Gulf Coast League Tigers where he won one game and lost two.
That was followed by stops with the West Michigan White Caps, the Lakeland Tigers, the Erie Sea Wolves and finally the Toledo Mud Hens as he slowly wound his way through low level Class A ball, high Class A, Class AA and Class AAA.
In the lower classifications his record would appear to be mediocre at best: seven wins and 11 loses in low A and 6-11 in high A. “But,” he says in self-defense, “a couple of those years I was third in the league in earned run average. At times we played teams whose team batting average was higher than the highest of any individual on our team.”
His high school coach, Larry Turner, chimes in: “A lot of those games he would leave with a lead and the relief pitching couldn’t hold it, so a number of games he pitched well but didn’t get a favorable decision.”
In 2007 Trahern finally turned it around, achieving a record of 13-6 in combined Class AA and AAA games.
The figures intrigued a couple of scouts with Oklahoma ties. Stan Meek, the Marlins’ scouting director, is a former coach for the Sooners and Ray Hayward, a scout, recruited Trahern to OU. Both knew him well, and when the Marlins decided to cut two of their biggest name players (Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera) in a massive deal to Detroit for six players largely unknown, the scouts made sure Trahern was part of the mix.
“It might be a blessing,” says Trahern of the trade that sent him from an organization high in the American League to one that nestled in the bottom of the National League East. “I understand they are looking for two pitchers to add to the starting rotation. There are six pitchers under consideration and I’m one of the six. For the very first time when I go to spring training in February I’ll be training with the major leaguers.”
Between now and the time he leaves for the majors, Trahern will be training in the Owasso facility where he’ll be reunited with his high school coach, Turner, who himself has been singled out for an enormous honor. In mid-January Turner was selected High School Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Association. He got his honor in Philadelphia in front of 4,000 of his peers.
Trahern has now been coached in high school and professionally. What does he recall about the men who led the Rams?
“Coach Turner was incredible. He taught us how to be men before he taught us baseball.
“All the coaches were awesome. It seemed like at Owasso we had a college coaching staff. I remember Coach Turner was always telling us ‘Unity Wins Championships’ and the members of the team were best friends on and off the field.
“As far as baseball knowledge is concerned, these coaches are right up there, but they also care about us as people. In the pros it’s different; you’re an adult so you’re expected to be able to lead your own life. It’s totally about the profession.”
Trahern plans to spend the time before spring training working out on his own in Owasso.