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Allentown Morning Call

Puerto Rico Plays Part In Perkiomen School's Success

By RON KOHL Of The Morning Call

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Allentown Morning Call. All rights reserved. 

Ken Baker remembers the first student in Perkiomen School's ongoing Puerto Rican connection, and for obvious reasons: The kid slept with his baseball bat.

That was back around 1996, and now 14 natives of Puerto Rico have played baseball for Baker at the small private independent college preparatory boarding/day school in Pennsburg.

"And every one of them is either in college now or is still at Perkiomen School," said Baker.

Baker got a call from one of his Puerto Rican alumni the other day. The student, currently a senior at the University of South Florida, no longer plays baseball, and he only had a minute to chat before heading off to class. He just wanted to tell his old high school coach that he had just been accepted into grad school -- at Columbia University.

"Obviously, we're not looking at kids who might be potential major league players," Baker explained. "They have to be students first. That's the No. 1 key."

While Monday's snowfall likely postponed Perkiomen's baseball schedule through the end of the week, it's April, and Baker's current team is winning -- as usual. Through its first six games, the Indians are 6-0, have outscored their foes by a combined 52-7 margin, and have yet to allow an earned run.

Perkiomen's latest win, a 4-0 blanking of Chestnut Hill Academy last Friday, represented a sizable milestone for the Indians, and not just because Miguel Valcarcel fired a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts in Perkiomen's fourth-straight shutout.

It was also Coach Baker's 200th career victory.

This isn't major league baseball with its 162-game schedule. "We average somewhere around 20-22 games, depending on postseason play," Baker said. As far as he could remember, the most games any of his Indian teams had played was 24.

And no, Ken Baker isn't Paul "Bear" Bryant or John Chaney. He hasn't been around forever. On the contrary, he didn't become Perkiomen's baseball coach until 1990, and some of those early years were lean ones. "I've been on both sides of the fence, believe me," he chuckled.

Good kids have a funny way of making a coach look good, Baker noted.

"Obviously, you don't have that kind of consistency if you don't have good kids. We have good kids, and as the program gets stronger, we have more kids looking at Perkiomen School and wanting to be involved with the school. It's worked out very well in that respect."

The Indians spent a week in Puerto Rico last month. While other Pennsylvania high schools were confined to workouts in the gym, Perkiomen School was playing five games in as many days in 80 degree weather.

That certainly didn't hurt. Neither did a solid offseason program that includes a fall tournament schedule combining kids from Perkiomen School and nearby Upper Perkiomen High. Once Baker's teams turned the corner, they haven't stopped winning. Starting in 1995, the Indians have captured seven regular season championships and six Keystone Scholastic Athletic Conference tournament crowns in an eight-year span.

"Over a period of time, it's become tradition that the kids work hard, that they put in the extra time," Baker said. " Our kids will come down to the athletic center during their free period and they'll hit. They'll do it on their own, and they're very consistent about it."

Back around 1996, Baker got a call from the head of the Roberto Clemente All-Stars Program, which annually takes high school players down to Puerto Rico for spring training with and against the same teams that produced major league stars like Edgar Martinez and Javy Lopez. Would Baker be willing to take his kids to Puerto Rico?

It was short notice, and it wouldn't have worked out that year, but in the course of conversation, Baker was asked about his school. Within three weeks, after discussing the matter with Perkiomen headmaster George Allison, Baker was down in Puerto Rico, laying the foundation for bringing student-athletes (i.e., good students first, athletes second) up to Perkiomen School.

"It's been a real positive experience," Baker said.

One of those first two Puerto Rican students, Julio Acosta, was tabbed in the major league draft while he was still at Perkiomen. Choosing to further his education before turning to pro baseball, Acosta is finishing out a fine college career at DeSales University, where the 6-4 catcher is hitting over .300.

That's just one of many success stories. And the winning continues at Perkiomen, where the coach has reached a milestone and expectations are high every spring.

"The kids do expect that, if they play well, they'll be successful," Baker said.

Ron Kohl is a freelance writer

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