A trio of former area baseball standouts were back in action Saturday, as Brad Wilkerson, Justin Marks and Neil Holland were part of the Louisville Stars team made up of ex-MLB players who competed against the Owensboro RiverDawgs in the Bluegrass World Series.
Wilkerson is a 1995 graduate of Apollo — where he won Kentucky’s Mr. Baseball in his senior season — while Holland and Marks donned Owensboro Catholic jerseys from 2002 to 2006. All three played during Saturday’s series finale at Louisville Slugger Field.
On Friday night of the BWS — a four-day round robin tournament with the vision of uniting the community — those who have served in the military and live in the Louisville area were honored, specifically individuals who have received a Medal of Honor.
For Wilkerson, the tournament represented a chance to lace up his spikes and play the game he loves once again while also supporting a worthy cause.
“Friday night was just awesome,” Wilkerson said. “To get to be around the last couple nights and to see the parade of Medal of Honor winners from here in the city, that’s what it’s really all about. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this, and it’s been fun to be back out on the field.”
Holland, the all-time saves leader at the University of Louisville, was thankful for the opportunity to be involved in the event.
“Every offseason I’ve worked with a local hero around here named Chris Burke,” Holland said. “He said they wanted to do a recognition of Owensboro baseball stars tonight and asked me to join the roster. I was so honored to be asked and it’s been awesome. I hope to do this every year.”
Marks started for the Louisville Stars in the game against the RiverDawgs. He pitched two innings, giving up one earned run while striking out three batters. Marks was grateful to get the opportunity to pitch and join a roster that included his former teammate.
“Tonight was fun,” Marks said. “I haven’t gotten to compete like this in a little over two years now. Growing up in a baseball town like Owensboro, we were always competing hard and tonight was no different. I think it says a lot to have three guys from our little hometown all on the same roster for something like this.”
Wilkerson was also able to look back fondly on his time in high school and the success it allowed him to ultimately achieve.
“I grew up in an environment of competition in Owensboro,” Wilkerson said. “It helped me to get where I am today. Me and my buddies were always out and competing every day, whether it was basketball or baseball or soccer, we were always doing something. I owe a lot of my success to the sports culture in Owensboro.”
Though the RiverDawgs were easily dispatched by the former MLB players, manager Vic Evans was thankful to have been a part of something so special.
“I told our guys that for most all of us, this will be the best baseball stage we ever participate on,” Evans said. “I was talking to a few of the guys earlier today about the fact that these are guys we used to watch on TV and idolize. This is such a cool way to cap off a great summer of baseball.”
Holland, who now gives youth lessons, said he encourages young players to strive for great success but to keep things in perspective.
“Being an instructor right now, I have a lot of kids and parents looking at colleges and next steps at a young age,” Holland said. “If I could say one thing, I’d say to enjoy the experience as it comes and to have a ton of patience. Never stop working hard, don’t forget the fun parts of the game, and find a happy medium between taking it seriously and having fun along the way.”