FREEBURG — Keegan Baxmeyer probably could have played just about anywhere on a baseball field, but the athletic sophomore has always felt right at home behind the plate.
Especially since the Freeburg Midgets' trip to the Class 2A state tournament this weekend elevates him into a rare status with his father. John Baxmeyer was a hard-hitting catcher on Waterloo's 1988 state tourney qualifier and now his son will have the same experience.
"He always taught me to keep my head level, so that's what I've tried to do," said Keegan Baxmeyer, whose 30-8 team will face Pleasant Plains (29-11) in a 3 p.m. semifinal Friday in Peoria. "Stay calm during big situations, that's the most important thing. It does mean a lot going to state."
Freeburg sophomore third baseman Ty Dill's father, Mark Dill, was a standout pitcher and infielder on Freeburg's 1989 state championship team.
Junior outfielder Cody Siebenberger's father is Doug Siebenberger, a former catcher at Belleville West and St. Louis University who played in the 1980 American Legion state tournament with the Belleville Hilgards.
"My dad has pretty much taught me everything I know about baseball," said Cody Siebenberger, who leads Freeburg in hitting (.453), runs scored (43) and stolen bases (10). "He's been the best coach I've ever had. He's always pushed me and been harder on me to be the best, because he knows I can do it."
After the Midgets clinched their state tourney berth, what did John Baxmeyer tell his son?
"He just told me good job, and not many teams go there," said the younger Baxmeyer, also a football standout as a running back and linebacker. "He wants to keep me humble. He knows what he's talking about, so I listen to him."
Apparently, he has listened well.
Only a sophomore, Baxmeyer is second on the team with a .420 average and leads the Midgets in home runs (four), RBIs (39) and doubles (13).
Mark Dill was the winning pitcher in Freeburg's first game at state in 1989. Watching son Ty get the game-winning hit Monday in the super-sectional victory over Teutopolis that sent the Midgets back to state was almost too much excitement for dad.
"When he got the hit I threw my drink on the ground and jumped up and down," Mark Dill said. "It was exciting. It was emotional."
The pair talked after the game and Mark Dill passed along some important advice.
"The biggest thing I told him was to just soak it all up, every little thing that transpires between now and the whole time you're up there," Mark Dill said Tuesday. "I've relived a lot of that season and that state tournament a lot of times. It was a thrill you'll never forget."
Ty Dill said having a dad that was also his coach was a built-in advantage.
"He was always the head coach or an assistant coach," Ty Dill said. "Even when he wasn't he was trying to be. He's helped me a lot."
Doug Siebenberger raised his son to be a good person, not just a good baseball player.
But he was also the one who put a glove on his son's hand the first time, bought him his first bat and showed him the fundamentals he would need to be a success on the field.
So did Mark Dill and John Baxmeyer, who both have been involved not only in their own sons' careers but also the careers of many other local players through coaching Little League and select teams.
Freeburg coach Drew Gericke grew up the same way. His father and grandfather were both outstanding players who passed along their knowledge to him.
Gericke knew he had something special in this current group and pointed to the solid fundamentals and experience gained by playing under fathers who also were successful players.
"A lot of that comes with the knowledge of the game," Gericke said. "My first couple years (coaching at Freeburg) I noticed that a lot of kids did not have that. Having a baseball background is all about the knowledge of baseball: when to do certain things, why to do it, the understanding of certain situations.
"That has been a a big plus for those three."
Don't think the dads aren't having the time of their lives, too.
Father's Day isn't until June 15, but they'll gladly accept a state baseball tournament trip instead of another tie or a trip to a restaurant.
"I've been to a state tournament in Legion and we won a state tournament in fast-pitch softball," Doug Siebenberger said. "I know that feeling and for a baseball guy, there's nothing like it. I had goose bumps just watching that final out Monday.
"It's an experience those kids will never forget. That group of guys will be their friends for life."
Mark Dill said he stays in touch with his 1989 state championship teammates. He considers having a son two wins away from winning his own state title a blessing, especially thinking back to when his own dad, Ron Dill, was coaching him growing up.
"It's just really neat to see him being able to experience something that is one of the top five greatest events of my life, after the birth of my two kids and being married," Mark Dill said. "This is the ultimate prize and what you really work toward all those years."
While the sons never got to see their dads play, they have heard enough of the exploits from family and friends.
"He's humble, he won't tell me much," Cody Siebenberger said. "But I knew he could play back in the day, his friends will tell me every now and then. He keeps quiet about it.
"He'll jump in the cage and hit a couple off the back screen, but that's about it."
Keegan Baxmeyer said becoming a catcher was part of the family DNA. The sophomore calls most of the pitches for Freeburg seniors Nick Yung and Milton Pinkston, something Baxmeyer has done for years.
Does he realize how good a player his father was?
"He never really told me much about it," Keegan Baxmeyer said. "It was mostly always telling me to hit it more to the opposite side of the field because that's where he always hit it. They say he was pretty good, so I try being like that, too."