Palm Beach State’s Stemle in GJ with home school
When Gordon (Ga.) College didn’t offer him any scholarship money to stay for his sophomore season, Mike Stemle went home to Florida.
There, he found his way back to Grand Junction.
Palm Beach State (Fla.) College is playing in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series for the first time, but Stemle played in it last year, albeit in a limited role as a pinch runner because of a shoulder injury. He still enjoyed that first trip to Grand Junction.
“I definitely really wanted to play because I was thinking it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Stemle said. “And I was like, ‘Damn, I wish I was healthy and I could play.’ Then again, I was still having fun sitting on the bench and just enjoying the stadium and all the fans and stuff. It was still enjoyable even though I wasn’t playing.”
Stemle said the decision to leave Gordon was made for him financially. Without scholarship money to stay in Georgia, he went home to Palm Beach State, which is two miles from where he went to high school, Park Vista High School. It’s also where his dad is a professor, and Stemle gets free tuition as a result.
“So, I just walked on and got free tuition, and here I am,” Stemle said.
And here he is in Grand Junction again.
There’s no torn labrum in his throwing shoulder to keep the speedy center fielder out of the World Series lineup this year, and he’s making his presence felt on a scrappy Palm Beach State team that has won three games in a row, two in extra innings, since losing its first-round game Saturday, 6-4 to Central Alabama Community College.
Now, the Panthers are back in the thick of the title hunt, one of four teams remaining from the field of 10, and they’re playing the last undefeated team in the tournament, Central Alabama, in today’s 7:30 p.m. game.
Stemle’s contributions have been substantial all season. The Panthers’ leadoff hitter entered JUCO with the team’s second-best batting average and on-base percentage, .352 and .402, respectively, among the starters. And singles or walks for him are equivalent to doubles. He stole 49 bases in 55 attempts prior to JUCO. And he has stolen five bases in six tries in four World Series games.
“I’ve always been fast and a base stealer, so I like to set my expectations high,” said Stemle, who stole more than 30 bases at Gordon the year before. “I had a good season. If you get on base, you’re going to steal. If you don’t get on base, you won’t be able to steal. I had a pretty good season at the plate, got on base, and I was able to steal some bags.”
Stemle is hitting .400 (8 for 20) in the World Series with two doubles, three RBI, three runs and two sacrifice bunts. He also has thrown out two runners from center field during the World Series, including one at the plate, giving him 12 assists for the season.
“I used to have a much stronger throwing arm,” Stemle said. “It progressively gets better as the days go on after my surgery.”
Stemle’s productivity was a welcome addition to a good Palm Beach State baseball program.
“He called me in the summer and said, ‘Hey, I’ve decided to come back home,’ ” Panthers coach Kyle Forbes said. “So, he’s a local kid who went away and came back, and we’re sure glad he did because he’s been awesome.
“He gets on base, he steals bases, he scores runs. Out in the field, he catches everything. He’s a great player.”