Picture Paul John Zobeck as a toddler, wielding his Big Red Bat as his mom and dad lob him pitches in the basement of their Soldotna home.
Fast-forward to the summer of 1999 and Zobeck, now a member of the American Legion Post 20 Twins and preparing for his senior year of high school, steps into the batter's box at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound slugger gets a pitch in his wheelhouse and smashes the ball over the center-field wall, some 412 feet away.
"Ever since I started in my basement with my Big Red Bat, I've gotten a thrill out of hitting the ball as hard as I could," Zobeck said last week after the Soldotna High School basketball team finished up practice. "My dad played four years of college baseball, so I guess it's hereditary.
Paul John Zobeck
Has averaged 12.7 points per game this season for the Stars, who won Region III/4A's Southern Division.
Is a home run threat for the American Legion Post 20 Peninsula Twins.
Carries a 3.7 grade point average.
n Would like to major in business management.
"When the snow melts, that's what you do."
There is a little more to summer around the Zobeck house than baseball, though. When Legion practice is over, and chores are out of the way, the Zobeck's have a close to full-size basketball court in the back yard, and it's turned out to be the best place in town to find a friendly pickup game.
"We have some good games in the back yard," Zobeck said. "Guys come over and have a good time. We get a lot of different guys coming over to play."
Included in the competition is Zobeck's older sister Ann, now a sophomore in college after playing three years of basketball and two years of volleyball at Soldotna, and younger sister Hillary, now a freshman on the Stars' varsity.
"People come over and just play pickup games. It's a nice atmosphere," Hillary said.
Zobeck's father, Paul, lends his support, giving out advice on pitching, hitting or shooting free throws. Between Paul and Paul John, Hillary has a complete coaching staff at her disposal.
"(My brother) is a good coach," Hillary said. "Sometimes he and my dad team up on me and tell me what I'm doing wrong and how to do it better."
Paul also plays the role of court jester on occasion. Paul John describes his dad, a physical education teacher at Skyview High School, as master of the trick shot.
"He takes these half-court, behind the back, lying down shots," Paul John said. "His latest thing is to drop kick the ball. He puts it right in."
Paul John said that his father's piece de resistance is a shot he takes from the back porch. Because of the angle of the porch and the court, the shooter has to launch the ball underhanded with his left hand.
"I don't know if he's ever put one in," Paul John said.
"Left-handed, nothing but net -- I try to get the yard as full of kids as possible in case it goes in," Paul said.
Paul John's mother, Shirley, also works at Skyview, but her favorite teams are the ones her kids play for, and she makes the time to get to as many games as she can.
"I'm my son's biggest fan," Shirley said. "All those things that you miss while you're at the game, you don't even notice that you're missing them. They're time for those things later."
Shirley has joined the M.O.B. -- the Mothers of Basketball -- a loose affiliation of SoHi hoops players' parents. The group regularly puts together pregame meals for the team. Feeding a group of growing high school boys is no small feat.
"Somebody asked me how many times (Paul John) eats each day. I said once -- all day," Shirley said.
The back yard won't be ready for basketball for another month or so, though, and Paul John has his hands full with other things at the moment. He carries a 3.7 grade point average in his academic courses, and the Stars are busy getting ready for the Region III/4A tournament beginning Thursday in Palmer.
With Paul John getting the job done in the paint, the Stars finished with a record of 15-7 overall and 6-4 in the region. Soldotna enters the region tournament as the top seed from the Southern Division and will face the host Moose in Thursday's opening round.
"Baseball's been my favorite sport, but I've really grown to love basketball over the past couple of seasons," Paul John said.
Paul John sprained an ankle just before practice started in November, and didn't make his first appearance of the season with the Stars until the SoHi Tipoff Tournament in January, where Soldotna won three straight games to take the tourney title.
Since returning to the hardcourt, Paul John has averaged 12.7 points per game for the Stars, including his season-high total of 25 points in his second game back, a Soldotna win over North Pole in the SoHi tournament.
"It was fun to win our own tournament -- we hadn't won it before," Zobeck said, "and it meant a lot just to win some games, and to win three games in a row."
There's a life lesson in there -- work hard, and good things are going to happen -- and Paul John's coaches and parents have always encouraged those lessons to be applied beyond the ballpark or the basketball court.
"For us as a family, we like the excellence possible, and the challenges possible with varsity sports," Paul said.
In fact, Soldotna coach Ron Becker often gives his players things to ponder both on and off the court.
"There's a lot of lessons learned from coach Becker and from basketball," Paul John said. "Hard work pays off. That was a hard lesson for me to learn, but once you learn that, you can accomplish anything.
"Coach Becker says what he's thinking about that day. He's always talking to us about something, whether it's about life, or what we need to do as a team or an individual. We shoot free throws in the morning, and he gives us a thought for the day, or things to work on for the week."
For Paul John, the thought process doesn't end when he leaves the gym. His parents often find him burning the midnight oil, getting his homework done before turning in for the evening, rather than leaving it for the last minute.
"Drive by our house just about any evening at 11:30, 11:45, and you'll see him through the window, sitting at the end of the counter doing his homework," Paul said. "He doesn't stop until he's done. We're proud of that."
Paul John would like to follow in his dad's footsteps and see where he can go playing baseball in college. He hasn't decided on a school just yet, though he did say he's narrowed down his choices. He did have the opportunity to play last fall in Colorado for a team of select players.
Paul John stayed with an aunt and uncle in Pueblo, his father's hometown, and got a chance to face junior college-level pitching, including a few guys that could throw in the 90s.
"It was a good opportunity," Paul John said.
Paul John is planning to study business management when he enters college next fall, with the hopes of owning his own business somewhere down the road.
Until then, he'll see if there's any more fences to swing for.
"He has a real love for baseball, and being from Alaska, it's hard to feel like you have a huge opportunity to play in college," Paul said. "He'll try to pursue it. Hopefully, he'll be one of the fortunate ones. Hopefully, he gets a break.
"Everybody wants to see where they can go with their passion. I feel comfortable, and comforted, that he has a good academic pad to fall back on. We're proud that he's been a good student."
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