Baseball is in Rob Orndorff’s DNA. The former Connellsville High School standout is part of a baseball family. Rob’s father Ross and uncle Charlie are part of that family tradition.
Ross played in the Pirates system and became the baseball coach at Uniontown High School. Charlie later played in the Phillies’ minor league system.
“It was a family thing,” Rob said. “Outdoors in the backyard, then Little League. We played at family reunions and get-togethers, it was a baseball thing.
“We lived in Mill Run, Pa. and baseball is like a religion there. In 2010 nine years ago we celebrated our 100th anniversary of playing baseball in Mill Run. Through all those years there has always been a team at Mill Run. It’s 109 years now and it’s still going.
“When I started I went through Little League, Pony League, Teener League and Fayette American Legion. I went through the whole thing.”
Connellsville’s American Legion team had a great tradition.
“My uncle Charlie played for Connellsville’s American Legion team,” Orndorff said. “He played with Jim Braxton and guys like Fred Norton. I played for Herman Welsh. He was ingrained in local baseball.
“Looking back as I moved up through the years I picked up a lot of stuff from Herman Welsh. Some people, Herman rubbed them the wrong way, what was on his mind is what he said and some people didn’t like that. But I was one who knew Herman had some background in the game and I took to him and he took to me.
“Our legion teams didn’t advance very far playoff-wise. My American Legion success was playing in the American Legion East-West All-Star game. In the Fay West League, Mill Run was very successful. We had Roger Miller, at one point when he came back from playing pro baseball he had like a 33- or 34-game winning streak. We were riding high with his pitching and we had a lot of other guys like Ricky Broadwater, Steve Kooser and Donny Shearer, and my brothers. My dad and Donny Shearer coached that team.”
Orndorff was part of some very successful Connellsville High School baseball squads. In 1985 the Falcons were 16-5 and section champs. They lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals. In 1986 Connellsville posted a record of 22-4, won the section title and captured the Class AAA WPIAL Championship, downing Moon 6-3. Orndorff batted .377 for the Falcons and smacked five triples that season.
In Orndorff’s senior campaign at Connellsville the Falcons were 21-5 and lost in the WPIAL semifinals. Orndorff had an outstanding season at the plate, batting .500 with 34 RBIs and 24 stolen bases.
“We were a junior-heavy group in 1986 when we won the WPIAL,” Orndorff recalled. “It didn’t work for us in 1987, but it was a very successful program. With coach Tom Sankovich at the helm Connellsville baseball was very dominant in Western Pennsylvania. I was fortunate enough to play with some great teams. Coach Sankovich was able to get the best out of the players. He had a strong feeder system and we had a good baseball program in the entire Connellsville area.”
Orndorff has great respect for Sankovich.
“He was tough and disciplined,” Orndorff said. “If you weren’t mentally tough back then you probably found another sport to play. He took a lot of the heat himself and allowed us to just go out and play.”
Orndorff has found memories of the 1986 WPIAL championship team.
“There is no specific game that stands out,” Orndorff said. “We were a good team and a good program. We weren’t picked early in the season, but it was a group of kids that got along well. We might not have had the nine best players, but we had the best nine. We just didn’t seem to have any pressure on us. It was just playing baseball to have fun.”
Orndorff, a second baseman, was All-Section 2 as a junior and senior. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 16th round of the 1987 baseball draft.
“I knew there was a local guy that was a scout and came and talked with me a couple of times,” Orndorff explained. “I wasn’t looking at it and I wasn’t expecting it. I came home from a Legion game and got out of my vehicle and my brother came out and said somebody from the Montreal Expos called and they want you to play baseball. We talked about it and Roger Miller was a factor that I didn’t sign out of high school. He guided me toward getting a college degree. I felt a little stronger towards academics and getting an education.
“I didn’t sign and made a couple of recruiting trips. My father talked to some friends about Liberty University. Dave Pastors was an assistant under Bobby Richardson at Liberty. I went to Liberty and I only stayed for one semester. It was six and a half hours away and I was homesick. Looking back now I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed there. I was playing baseball for Bobby Richardson. I transferred back to West Virginia University and decided not to continue playing baseball. I just did the academics and the education.”
He thinks a lot about his decision to this day.
Orndorff got a degree in Health and Physical Education. He didn’t get into teaching right away as nothing was available locally. He worked seven years for Fayette County Emergency Management as an instructor.
Connellsville reopened elementary physical education. He was hired by Connellsville in the fall of 1999. He just finished his 20th year in the Connellsville School District. He was an assistant baseball coach for three seasons under Joe Bonadio. He also was an assistant under Bob Renzi for two years. Orndorff just completed his seventh season as head baseball coach at Connellsville.
“We broke through and made the playoffs in 2017, our first playoff appearance in 11 years,” Orndorff said. “That was a rough road. We made the playoffs last year and had a strong showing against a strong Seneca Valley team. I have high hopes for next season.”
Orndorff was named WPIAL Big 56 Section II Coach of the Year.
Now, 50, Orndorff has been married to his wife April for 28 years. They have two children, Alyssa 22 and Derek 20.
“Looking back it’s all about relationships,” Ordorff said. “I’m finding that more and more, it’s about relationships. The wins and losses come and go. You see kids down the road and kids are coming back. That’s a great feeling.”
George Von Benko’s “Memory Lane” column appears weekly in the Herald-Standard. He also hosts a sports talk show on WMBS-AM radio from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.