When Blue Mountain League Hall of Famer Ted Plessl decided to start a BML franchise in 2009 to give some of the younger players coming out of the local high school and collegiate ranks a place to play, he knew that the young squad would "take some lumps."
Plessl was right.
The Blue Mountain Hawks went 45-87 over their first four years, but steadily got better. They improved from 10 wins each of the first two seasons to 12 in 2011 and 13 last year.
Now in year No. 5, the Hawks are delivering lumps rather than taking them. When Blue Mountain routed four-time defending champ Hellertown 14-4 on Thursday night, it was a historic moment for the Laurys Station-based team — a franchise record 14th win.
But that's not the only history this rising team wants to make this summer.
With less than two weeks left in the BML regular season, the Braves were one of five teams bunched within four games of each other in the standings, all trying to secure one of the four playoff spots.
The only four teams were last year's playoff qualifiers — Hellertown, Martins Creek, the Metlife Orioles and Easton Falcons. Experience would seem to give that quartet the edge.
However, the Hawks entered a key doubleheader with Easton on Saturday with a four-game win streak and a belief that their time has come.
"This season has been an absolute joy because no one expected us to be in contention at this point," first-year manager Bryce Muth said.
Muth took over from Plessl, the former Palmerton High coach who still is connected to the team in a GM-type role.
Plessl credits Muth for bringing in several key new players, especially pitchers, who have tilted the Hawks in a more successful direction.
"He was able to get some quality pitching to join a solid nucleus we had built," Plessl said. "He brought in guys like Matt Smith, Matt Nelson, Joe Candelmo and Matt Hurd. Mixing them in with guys we already like Tyler Harris, Justin Warner and Chris Boyce has really helped."
Plessl said the original idea behind the team was to give kids a chance to play after their high school and legion careers were over.
"Me and my longtime coaching sidekick Joe Domitrovits had worked with a bunch of kids in a fall AAU program since they were 11 years old," Plessl said. "We wanted to find these kids a place where they would get a chance to play right away. They were in college and needed to be playing summer ball and we wanted them to play at a high level. We sat down and talked about the Blue Mountain League."
Plessl, who is intricately involved with Lehigh Valley's Carpenter Cup and Keystone Games programs, knew he could round up some talented players.
However, being so young in a league filled with polished players, Plessl knew success wouldn't come immediately because "the BML is one of the best amateur leagues you'll find anywhere."
"We thought we did pretty well winning 10 games that first year," Plessl said. "We were always a young team that tried to run and use our speed because we didn't have the power of other teams. That trend has continued.. It took time and we kind of grew into the league, and now Bryce has brought in outstanding pitching."
Plessl said he doesn't miss the time spent getting the field prepared both before and after games and the other administrative duties that come with running a team.
"I loved it from the first pitch to the last pitch," he said. "That's what I miss."
But he still enjoys watching these Hawks and appreciates the job Muth, a recent Parkland High and East Stroudsburg University graduate, has done.
Muth, who will turn 24 in August, played with the Orioles previously and is in his first year with the Hawks. He doesn't put himself in the lineup unless he has to, preferring to focus on the rest of the guys.
"This is my first time running my own team and it's a young group," Muth said. "The oldest guy we have is either 24 or 25. A lot of our guys are Parkland graduates, and all the others are from the area. That has helped to build camaraderie because these guys have either played on the same teams or against each other.
"At this point of their lives they put their high school differences behind them and they get along well. That unity has really helped."
With the playoff push underway, Muth is hoping the team's pitching remains a strength.
"The pitching is the reason we are where we are," Muth said. "The have kept us in every game. The key for us down the stretch is that we have to beat the teams we're supposed to beat. We have to play the other contenders Easton, the Creekers and the Orioles and it would nice to get some of those games, but we must win the games we have left against the teams lower than us in the standings."
If they can keep it up the road to the BML title may, for the first time, wind through Laurys Station.
DID YOU KNOW?
•The Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game, matching players from the Allentown Railers, Quakertown Blazers and Lehigh Valley Catz against players from the four New Jersey and New York franchises is set for 7 p.m. Monday at Quakertown Memorial Park. The Railers Dylan Dando is the Pennsylvania team's manager.
•The Tri-County League playoffs are set to start on Saturday and the field is just about set with last year's four playoff entrants — Limeport, Northern Yankees, Boyertown and Gabelsville — back in the postseason. As of Saturday, the only team yet to clinch a spot was Gabelsville. The Yankees are the two-time defending champs.