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Lombardozzi And Clevenger Hit Big Time

By Keith Mills

It was a banner week for the Atholton High School athletics department. The Raiders of Howard County shut out powerful River High in football, while former Atholton shortstop Steve Lombardozzi not only got his first major league hit, but also helped the Washington Nationals beat the New York Mets.

Lombardozzi, a 2007 Antholton graduate and an all-state selection as a shortstop by the Maryland State Baseball Coaches Association, played in the Brooks Robinson All-Star Game before spending one year at St. Petersburg College in Florida.

One year later, Lambardozzi was picked during the 19th round of the 2008 draft and signed by Florida-based scout Paul Tinnell for the Nationals and has had enormous success at every level. This year, he split the season between the Nats' Double-A team in Harrisburg and Triple-A team in Syracuse, where he lived with his grandparents and continued to sparkle both at the plate and in the field.

A switch hitter since high school, Lombardozzi hit a combined .309 for both teams with 25 doubles, nine triples, eight home runs, 30 stolen bases and 52 RBIs. He also made just two errors defensively and earlier this month was named the Nats' Minor League Player of the Year.

He is the son of Steve Lombardozzi Sr., who played six years in the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros. In the 1987 World Series, the elder Lombardozzi hit .412 while helping the Twins beat the St. Louis Cardinals, four games to three.

Young Steve was born one year later, on Sept. 20, 1988. Twenty-two years later, he made his major league debut for the Nationals on Sept. 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park. One week later, with his mom Jill, dad Steve and sister Toni at Citi Field in New York, he singled in Brian Bixler with what proved to be the winning run as the Nationals beat the Mets, 3-2.

Meanwhile, as Atholton's football team gets ready for this Friday's game with Reservoir, the school and coach Kyle Schmitt's football team is savoring another signature win against River Hill, the standard in Howard County football since the Hawks won back-to-back state championships in 2007 and '08.

The Raiders beat the Hawks, 14-0, Sept. 16, the second straight year they have shut out the perennial state power. A year ago, on Oct. 1, 2010, they won, 10-0, on their way to an 8-3 season that ended with a 21-7 loss to eventual state champ Wilde Lake in the Class 3A East region finals.

The win last year snapped River Hill's 48-game Howard County League winning streak. This year's win improved the Raiders’ record to 2-1. The lone loss was a forfeit for an illegal practice held in August.

Steve Whiting, Brian McMahon and DeQuan Ellison led the way for the Raiders, who are coached now by Schmitt, the former center for the Maryland Terrapins who took over the program in 2009.

Schmitt spent part of 2006 in NFL Europe playing for the Cologne Centurions and on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad before returning to Maryland in 2007, where he spent two years as a grad assistant to coach Ralph Friedgen.

Steve Lombardozzi is not the only former all-state baseball player from the Baltimore area to get promoted to the big leagues this month. Steve Clevenger, a 2004 graduate of Mount St. Joseph, was just recalled by the Cubs from their Triple-A affiliate in Iowa City, Iowa.

Clevenger was a tremendous shortstop for Mount St. Joe, leading Dave Norton's Gaels to a 28-7 record and the '04 MIAA A Conference championship. He hit .500 during his senior year with 36 runs scored and 32 driven in.

He attended Southeastern Louisiana University, where he was picked during the seventh round of the 2006 draft and signed by Cubs scout Keith Stohr. He has spent the last six years at every level of the Cubs farm system: Boise, Idaho (Rookie League and low Class A); Daytona Beach, Fla. (high A); the Tennessee Smokies of the Double-A Southern League; and the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

"Coach Norton was a great influence on my career," said Clevenger, whose mother Donna lives in Pasadena. She used to drive Steve to all of his amateur games, first with the Carroll Park Little League program in West Baltimore, then the Linthicum-Ferndale program in northern Anne Arundel and then Dean Albany's Maryland Orioles 10-and-under program in 1997. He played for the Orioles through high school before signing with the Cubs.

Clevenger is the fourth member of Norton's Mount St. Joe program to play in the big leagues within the last four year. He joins Mark Teixeira of the Yankees, Gavin Floyd of the White Sox and current New York Mets pitcher Mike O'Connor.

O’Connor was a teammate of Mike Floyd, Gavin's brother, and Teixeira's on the 1997 Mount St. Joe team. O'Connor also pitched for the Nationals in 2006 and '08.

Clevenger moved from second base to catcher after his first season of rookie ball in 2006 at the urging of Boise manager Steve McFarland and he has hit at every level. During six years, he owns a .308 minor league career average, though with Geovany Soto firmly established as the Cubs' everyday catcher, he was never promoted to the big leagues -- until now.

Clevenger's minor league season ended when the Tennessee Smokies lost to Mobile in the Southern League championship series, though it wasn't long before manager Brian Harper called him into his office and told him he and pitcher Rafael Dolis were headed to Chicago.

He spent part of this year in Triple-A at Iowa City, though the bulk of his season was spent with the Smokies, where he hit .295 with five home runs, 27 doubles and 59 RBIs in 95 games.

He arrived in Chicago on Monday, where he was in uniform for the Cubs' 5-2 win against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Posted Sept. 20, 2011