New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
(This is the third in a series of feature stories on the 2012 inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame).
It’s an argument Doug Peters will win almost every time.
It really doesn’t matter who he’s making conversation with or what sport they’re discussing, people learn pretty quickly that they shouldn’t have debates about who was a better high school athlete with Peters.
A 1986 Shenango High graduate, Peters starred in football, basketball and baseball. He was named league MVP in each sport, an accomplishment that is believed to never have been achieved before or after. He had a choice of Division I schools to pick from — in two sports.
In baseball, where his fastball reached the low 90s, he was named Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 1986, and he eventually pitched in the Kansas City Royals organization. In football, as a quarterback and safety, he set records that still stand today. He wreaked so much havoc on defense that Joe Paterno wanted him to join his Nittany Lions as a safety or linebacker.
Peters could do it all — and he did.
Still, when the guys at work start talking trash about how great of an athlete they were or could have been in high school, Peters does his best to stay humble and keep quiet.
“It was 25 years ago,” said Peters, smiling just a bit when he was reminded about all his honors and awards. “The only time you bring this stuff up is when you’re trading jabs with your friends.”
There’s another reason to bring it up these days.
Peters will be inducted into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 29 at the New Englander. It’s an honor even the guys at work, at Preston Toyota in Boardman, noticed. That group includes another former Shenango star, Shane Lanigan, who led the Wildcats’ basketball team to a WPIAL title in the 1990s.
“One of the other managers at work was like, ‘Oh wow, you did that?,’ especially when he heard I was getting into the hall of fame,” Peters said. “Because he knew I played pro baseball, but he didn’t know how good at football and basketball I was. So he tells Shane, ‘You stink compared to him.’ We all jab back and forth, and it’s fun.”
Peters’ induction comes as no surprise as the former Lawrence County Athlete of the Year was a star at Shenango. His success came in every sport he tried, but it was baseball where he truly dominated. His earned run average as a senior was less than 0.50, and he led the entire state of Pennsylvania in strikeouts. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 14th round of the 1986 draft and also had numerous Division I schools looking at him in football, but he chose to stick with his decision to play baseball at Indiana University.
That option is one he thinks twice about these days.
“I knew my shot, where I could make a lot of money, was better in baseball,” Peters said. “But if I had to go back and choose one sport, taking money out of the spectrum, I probably would have played football.
“I loved the competitive nature of football. There was nothing like a Saturday night, going out there with a group of guys, putting a hit on somebody and just battling.”
Part of the reason football meant so much to Peters (aside from the fact that the Wildcats were really good in the ’80s) is because of his coaches. Guys like Frank Bongivengo Sr., the former head football coach at Shenango, and Jan Budai, a quarterbacks coach and the head baseball coach. Peters said they pushed him harder than anyone else and forced him to get the most out of his abilities.
“He worked at everything he did,” said Budai, now athletic director at Shenango. “He wasn’t the type of person who just showed up and said I’m going to let my athletic ability take over. He worked hard to become the player he was.
“And everything he did, it just sort of turned out right. He would make things happen. If you called something, and he got in trouble, he would find a way to get out of it.”
Peters still is the Wildcats’ record-holder for completion percentage (56.6) and longest punt return (88 yards). And that’s not the only sport where he ranks high in the record books.
Peters was a standout all-around basketball player, a sport he said was his worst. He still scored 798 career points, made 253 assists (fifth in school history), grabbed 128 steals (sixth in school history) and 552 rebounds (fifth in school history).
A forward/guard, Peters admits he wasn’t the most skilled player on the team, but like all the other sports, he loved the rivalries and being part of a team.
“I just competed,” he said. “There weren’t any (colleges) coming to look at me for basketball. I wasn’t making anyone’s college basketball team. I did well because of the athlete I was.”
There was no questioning his baseball abilities.
When he was drafted out of high school by the Cubs, he told the team he wanted $100,000 and his education to be paid for, and when Chicago countered with $50,000, he decided to go to Indiana.
He was named Freshman of the Year by the Hoosiers, and Peters said “he learned how to pitch.” Instead of trying to fire a 90-mph fastball past everyone, he developed other pitches, such as a change-up and a slider. He was steadily improving before an arm injury stunted his progression. He rehabbed the injury and was drafted again, this time by Kansas City, where he flew through the minor leagues. He was named MVP of the Royals’ Short-Season Class A affiliate in Eugene, Ore., and Kansas City thought so highly of him, the organization had him skip Single-A and go straight to Double-A.
“In ’92, they told me in ’93 I’d probably be in their starting big-league rotation,” he said. “And then toward the end of ’92 is when I blew out my arm. I had five tears in my rotator cuff.”
It was a devastating blow for Peters, who was on the verge of reaching the major leagues. He attempted a comeback, but when he pitched, he said “I could feel my whole shoulder shift. And I went from throwing low 90s and then I couldn’t even get up to 82 miles per hour.”
Peters continued to go through rehabilitation, and his fastball eventually reached the high 80s, but he was never the same pitcher, and after he was cut by Kansas City in 1994, he decided to move on from his baseball career instead of bouncing around to other teams.
He has since settled down with his wife of 14 years, Tracy. The couple lives in Shenango Township and has four daughters, Alexis, 12, Aryssa, 7, Ashlynn, 6 and Addison, 2.
Peters said his girls aren’t as involved in sports as he once was, but he’s fine with that.
“I want them to do whatever makes them happy,” he said.
Sports are what made Peters happy. He played football, basketball and baseball since the time he was a child, and when it was all over, he coached junior high basketball at Shenango for 10 years. He never took a break, not in high school or after, and that’s one decision he certainly doesn’t regret.
Despite all the stadiums he played in and great players played with and against, it was his time at Shenango that he cherishes the most.
“I got to play in big-league camp,” Peters said. “I got to play with guys like George Brett, Bo Jackson, and I competed against guys like Brett Boone, Carlos Delgado, Reggie Sanders, Jeff Kent. I could go on. I played with them, against them, but you’re never with those same guys. One year you’re with them, the next year they’re gone, you’re gone, you’re in different leagues. So, you become good friends, but not like the guys you grew up with who you spent 18 years of your life with.
“The most fun I had was back then. I loved it.”
TOMORROW: Darren Berkley