Luopa and Vogt continue family lineage on Owl baseball team
KEENE, N.H. 4/23/12 – Relatively speaking, Owl baseball coach Ken Howe hasn’t had many brothers or sons of former players on his team during his 26 years at Keene State College.
Scratching his head for a moment, Howe recalled the Dube brothers from Nashua, who both played a couple of seasons at Keene State. Mike, a pitcher, played for the Owls from 1994 to 1995, while Marc, an outfielder, arrived two years later, playing from 1999 to 2000.
As far as sons following their dads to KSC, the dugout had been bare. But that all changed this year with the arrival of a couple of freshmen who got the Owl baseball bloodlines flowing once again. Chuck Vogt, a versatile player from Windsor Locks, Conn., decided to follow his brother and recent relief ace Corey to the KSC complex, and Keene native Tanner Luopa, son of former Owl standout and record-holder John Luopa, who played from 1987-90, returned home after a brief stop at Southern Maine.
“Tanner is the first son of a former player that I’ve had, so I guess it shows I’m getting a little bit older,” said Howe.
Instead of being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Tanner was born with a ball in his hand. “As soon as I could walk, I had a ball in my hand,” said a smiling Tanner.
It wasn’t long before he was tagging along to the field with his dad, a KSC coach at the time, and even making some road trips with the team “He enjoyed being around the guys,” said John. “Anytime I’d go to practice, he’d say, ‘Dad, can I come?’’’
The trips gave John plenty of time to tell Tanner stories about his days playing for the Owls. “He played when it was Division II and talks himself up pretty good, but I heard he was a pretty good player,” said Tanner. “I know he held many records, and still holds the career batting average record (.402).”
Tanner went up the Keene baseball ladder, starting with T-ball and moving on to Little League, Cal Ripken, and Babe Ruth teams.
“My dad taught me everything about the sport,” said Tanner. “He’d tell me how he used to do things. Since he was the hitting coach at Keene State, I got some good advice.”
“Tanner is one of those kids who, the more you watch him, the more you appreciate the little things that he does,” said the elder Luopa. “You’re not going to be able to watch him for four innings and say wow, look at that, but he’s a student of the game and loves being on the field.”
Success seemed to follow Tanner. At the age of 10 his team went to the Cal Ripken World Series in Bakersfield, Calif. A few years later, Tanner hit the big time once again, playing on a team that reached the Babe Ruth World Series in Jamestown, N.Y. “They were both eye-opening experiences,” Tanner said. “It was awesome – great atmosphere, great baseball.”
Chuck Vogt, who was born in Ohio and lived in Pennsylvania before moving to Windsor Locks, was far from a natural when he started playing ball. “I always had a decent arm, but I just couldn’t hit,” he said. “Over the years, I started to mature and realize baseball was something I could do and have fun with, so I stuck with it.”
Four years apart, Corey and Chuck only played together once – by accident, at a Little League game. “I was at the game watching and his team didn’t have enough players,” recalled Chuck, who was put at second beside his brother at short. “I was nine, playing with 12-year-olds, so I was clearly over-matched. We laugh at it now, but I had a couple balls go right through my legs.”
Both Tanner and Chuck thrived on the diamond in high school. A two-sport athlete at Keene High, Tanner, an infielder, helped lead the baseball team to the 2009 state championship and was the starting quarterback on a Blackbird team coached by his dad. “Normally, kids go home after practice and get a break from ball, but this was 24/7. I got a talking-to more than once when we were at the dinner table.”
“Obviously you’re going to get yelled at more than anyone else,” said John. “But that goes with the territory when your dad is coaching and looking for perfection – but Tanner was good about it.”
John admitted that there were times when he thought about giving up coaching football, but was convinced to keep going by Tanner. “He’d say, ‘Dad, you have to continue.’”
Looking to continue his football career, Tanner initially looked at St. Anselm and Plymouth State, before deciding to play baseball at Southern Maine. A torn labrum injury (sustained during his junior year playing football) coupled with a desire to change majors, brought Tanner to Keene State.
Chuck Vogt came into his own as a junior at Windsor Locks High. As the team’s starting shortstop and No. 2 pitcher, Vogt hit .480, earning All-State honors. He followed that up with an equally impressive senior season, batting .505 with over 30 RBIs on a Raiders team that advanced to the semifinal round of the state tournament.
Busy playing ball, Chuck didn’t get to see his older brother pitch too often at Keene State. But that didn’t stop him from rejoicing the day Corey got the call that he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. “Seeing him get something he wanted for so long was nice,” said Chuck. “We were all so proud of him.”
Chuck Vogt also looked at a few schools before deciding on Keene State. “At first I said I wasn’t going to Keene, because I didn’t want to play in my brother’s shadow,” said Chuck. “But Corey kept on telling me the nice things the coaches were saying about me and that helped change my mind.”
“I knew he was looking at Keene and I told him it was a good school for academics and for baseball,” said Corey.”
The fact that Chuck had played with several Owl players either on high school or Legion teams made the transition even easier.
John Luopa had no concerns about his son playing in his shadow at KSC. “It’s two totally different eras and totally different divisions,” said John.
Since arriving at Keene State, Chuck and Tanner have headed in different directions. Chuck has becomes Keene State’s “Mr. Versatility,” seeing time behind the plate and at second as well as on the mound.
“Chuck has come in and done a pretty good job as a freshman,” said Howe. “He’s struggled at times at the plate, but any freshmen is going to have good and bad games. We think he has a bright future.”
Playing behind several seniors, Tanner, projected as an outfielder with the Owls, knows he must wait his turn for playing time. “As a competitor you want to be out there and you want to do everything you can to help your team, but I realize that this team has a lot of veterans and seniors,” said Tanner. “I hope next year I can work my way into the lineup.”
His dad preaches patience. “I tell him all the time to work hard in practice and keep getting better and stronger,” said John Luopa. “How many kids get to start when they’re freshmen? You can’t expect to walk in and play right away.”
“Tanner is still a work in progress,” said Howe. “He’s going to be around this summer with an opportunity to get bigger and stronger and we’ll wait and see what that turns into next year.”
Howe was pleased that a son and a brother of former players decided to come to Keene State. “It means a lot that John as a dad and Corey as a brother have enough respect for the program to want to send Tanner and Chuck here,” said Howe. “I hope I’m around long enough to see the grandkids come.”