CEDAR RAPIDS — You just don’t anticipate it happening. You can’t, if you’re a realistic person.
The odds of making it to professional baseball are so small. To get to the big leagues, they’re even tinier.
So even though Vinton-Shellsburg Coach Jim Struve always knew he had something special in Wes Obermueller, he never envisioned him accomplishing the things he did in the game. Mainly 80 major league games and another couple of years pitching professionally in Asia.
“He had the physical tools and the competitive makeup, in regards to work ethic and really working on trying to make himself better,” Struve said. “But, no, you never expect it. I’m not sure people recognize how difficult it is to make it, not only to the minors, but especially to the major leagues.”
Obermueller is one of six people to be inducted Saturday night in the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. It just so happens Struve also is among the six.
The IHSBCA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend with its annual clinic and banquet. Quite a deal.
“The 50th year, I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, or if this was meant to be,” Obermueller said. “To have one of my best coaches, especially in baseball, and myself going in at the same time is pretty incredible, pretty special.”
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“I just feel really blessed to have had the opportunity to coach Wes,” Struve said. “He was an amazing athlete, a great baseball player, and an even better person. Just a tremendous honor to be in this select group of hall of fame coaches. It’s just icing on the cake to be inducted together. It means a tremendous amount to me and my family.”
Struve retired after the 2017 season, ending a 25-year head coaching career at Vinton-Shellsburg. He coached in over 1,000 games, winning 610 of them and the 1998 Class 3A state championship.
Henry Brittan, a V-S graduate, will take over for him.
“He was an intense, competitive coach that got the best out of all of us,” Obermueller said. “He never let us take a day off, a game off, a pitch off. He was just a good motivational, character leader.”
“Probably the thing that stood out the most was having the opportunity to coach my two sons throughout their careers,” Struve said. “Both of them made it to the state tournament in different time periods, 2009 and 2015, so that was something extremely special. Certainly winning the state championship in 1998 was an awesome event that occurred ... Just remembering all of the players I’ve been fortunate enough to coach over the years is really something special.”
Obermueller was mostly a shortstop at Vinton-Shellsburg, though he played a lot of outfield as a freshman at Kirkwood Community College. Pitching progression came once he got to Iowa as a sophomore.
He made his major league debut for the Kansas City Royals in a start Sept. 20, 2002, at home against the Cleveland Indians, giving up four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings and taking the loss.
“I just remember the big, huge stadium and pitching to Jim Thome,” he said. “He ended up getting a home run that night. Ellis Burks got a home run that night. Jumping up from Double-A to the big leagues in a fairly quick fashion, it was almost surreal. I didn’t really even have the time to let it all sink in.”
Obermueller ended up going 11-22 with a 5.82 ERA in his MLB career, which included stints with the Royals, Milwaukee Brewers and Florida Marlins. He made 48 starts and had one shutout for the Brewers in 2004, also pitching in Japan and Korea before hanging up his spikes.
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He lives in North Liberty and sells medical equipment, an endeavor he says reminds him of professional baseball in its competitiveness.
“Blessed to have had a great opportunity,” Obermueller said. “Baseball took us from the farm to all over the world. I got to play in good organizations like the Royals and Brewers, then got overseas to Japan and Korea for that great experience. Had a lot of good support back home. All I ever wanted to do was represent the farm, Vinton, the state of Iowa as good as I could.”
And his old high school coach.
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