Catching contagious for Hickman siblings

Friday, October 5, 2007 | 2:42 a.m. CDT; updated 9:13 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Bart Steponovich, left, and his sister, Katherine, became catchers for the same reason: “to be part of every play.” Their father, Tony, and their brother, Nick, were also high school catchers.

COLUMBIA — The Steponovich family is loaded with competitive catchers.

Whether by choice, coincidence or because an instinctual transmission of knowledge, Nick, Bart and Katherine Steponovich all have become successful starters in baseball or softball.

Catching can be one of the most grueling positions. The catcher has to play in an unnatural crouch and catch fast moving balls near swinging bats. It can take a toll on the body and deter people from wanting to play the position. Also, as Steponovich family patriarch Tony Steponovich Jr. points out, the catcher throws just as many times a game as the pitcher. And, while a pitcher gets credit for strikes, strikeouts and wins, many of a catcher’s contributions go unnoticed, unless he or she makes a mistake.

But, that is the way the Steponovich family was raised:

They should not seek out recognition, but understand that one person’s gain is another’s loss. They should not dwell on defeat or indulge in the thrills of victory, but rather accept things as they come, learn from the experiences and move on.

They should study and play the game for exactly what it is, a game, something not to be taken too seriously. They should practice and perform at one’s highest level because it is his or her responsibility to the coach and teammates.

Make a difference

Tony Steponovich Jr. is a self-described “old school” guy. He says he believes in hard work, dedication and the pleasures of competition. He is against celebrating in the face of opponents and has raised his children to understand that the true rewards of competition come when people are able to alter their opposition’s performance with their play. To keep things in perspective, he and his wife, Vee Ann Steponovich, have their children donate their trophies and plaques to the Special Olympics.

Tony Steponovich Jr. was a catcher for his high school baseball team, Riverside-Poly, in California. He is passionate about the coaching he received from Bruce Wilson, his high school baseball coach. He passes on the lessons learned from Wilson to his children, like taking pride in not letting the ball get behind them.

Tony Steponovich Jr. continued his success as a football player for UCLA. He eventually became a coach for UCLA and later for MU, where he met his wife.

Tony and Vee Ann Steponovich said they never forced their kids to play sports, and they support whatever they wish to do. The parents said they want their children to make a difference in the world, to whatever extent.

“A guy goes along the beach, he’s throwing starfish back in the ocean,” Tony Steponovich Jr. said. “The sun’s going to come out and cook them, they’re going to die. A guy coming the other way asks, ‘What are you doing that for? You can’t save them all, you’re not going to make any difference.’ You want to know what the guy said that’s throwing the starfish back? ‘It made a difference for that one.’”

Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do

Nick Steponovich, 21, is the oldest of the three siblings. He has come a long way since little league. Because he matured late physically, Nick Steponovich said he couldn’t make any of the teams. As a result, his dad established a team so he and others like him could play. He said his dad always told him to “stay the course” and that things would eventually work out. Nick Steponovich said the athletes he looks up to are the ones who don’t seek attention and publicity, like Barry Sanders.

For never giving up on him, Nick Steponovich said he idolized his dad as a person and athlete, making Tony Steponovich Jr. his favorite player,

“You eventually get tired of people telling you what you can’t do,” Nick Steponovich said. “Then you use that as motivation to fuel you a bit.”

Nick Steponovich went on to play baseball for Hickman and was a member of the state championship team in 2005, his senior year. As a catcher, he didn’t commit an error that season. He was recruited by, and now plays catcher for, Ohio State. His major is sport and leisure studies.

He said his interest in catching began while he was playing little league. He realized he couldn’t stand to play any of the positions besides pitcher and catcher because he really enjoyed being involved in every play.

“I just really liked to keep control of the pace of the game,” he said.

His father describes Nick Steponovich as innately competitive, and his brother said he probably has the greatest work ethic among the three siblings.

Along with winning the state championship his senior season, Nick Steponovich said his favorite baseball memory happened the same year. The Hickman junior varsity team was playing in Florida and ran out of pitchers. So the coach allowed Nick Steponovich to pitch.

The catcher? Bart Steponovich.

In the Middle

Bart Steponovich plays football, basketball and baseball for Hickman. Now that he’s a senior, he’s busy trying to figure out his future. He plans to play baseball in college, but hasn’t decided which school.

This summer, Bart Steponovich represented Missouri high school baseball at the Annual Junior Sunbelt Classic in McAlester, Okla. Missouri hadn’t previously fared well in that tournament, but won this year.

Bart Steponovich said he decided to become a catcher for the same reasons his older brother did. Always being a part of the action really appealed to him. He also felt natural as a catcher and said it’s the position he plays best.

“It just kind of naturally happened,” Bart Steponovich said. “In little league, you play every position and you stay with the one you like the best.”

Bart Steponovich said his brother influenced his decision the most and that Nick Steponovich has been extremely supportive throughout his career.

Bart and Nick Steponovich worked on hitting, long toss and making throws to second and third base, and they would give each other feedback after games.

Bart Steponovich tries to attend as many of his sister’s games as possible and often works as her mentor. He recently told her she has been throwing sidearm and has been working with her to correct her throwing mechanics.

When he was younger, Bart Steponovich remembers playing backyard baseball and doing home run derbies with his brother and sister.

Part of the Crowd

Katherine Steponovich’s dad said she always saw herself as one of the guys.

With two older brothers, Katherine had to be tough to be part of the crowd. When Bart and Nick Steponovich played tackle football in the snow, they’d also let their sister play. But she had to be able to tackle and be tackled too.

Bart Steponovich said not only did his sister compete, but she would also sometimes win.

Katherine Steponovich said she became a catcher because, like her brothers, she wants to be part of every play. She hinted that her brothers might have had something to do with it.

“I think I’d always watch them and kind of admired what they did,” she said. “It was just a coincidence in a way.”

Katherine Steponovich is a sophomore softball player for Hickman. During her freshman year, she injured her back sliding into home. She continued to play that season despite her injury, but her performance was obviously hindered.

This season, she has been a hitting juggernaut.

“She is a completely different player,” Hickman coach Courtney Haskell said.

When asked what the difference is from last season, in a humble fashion that is prevalent among the Steponovich family, Katherine Steponovich neglected to note that she was injured. Instead, she credited “working on the basics” and “repetition” as the reasons for her successes.

“There’s always something to improve on,” Katherine Steponovich said. “You’re never 100 percent.”

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