Oehler said he once caught a game against James Madison in which Verlander struck out 18 batters.
"He was an unreal pitcher," Oehler recalls. "His stuff was lights-out."
Oehler enjoyed success at every level as a player, and his experience will no doubt be a benefit in a strong baseball town such as Gloucester.
A 1999 graduate of Audubon, Oehler was a two-time all-state catcher, but more impressive was that his team frequently came out on top on the scoreboard, especially when championships were at stake.
He earned two state titles at Audubon and three more at Brooklawn Senior American Legion, where Oehler was also on two regional champions. That earned him two trips to the American Legion World Series. Only eight teams out of approximately 5,000 end up qualifying for the World Series.
At ODU he was team captain his last two years, the same two seasons he caught Verlander.
After playing two years professionally with the independent Mid-Missouri Mavericks, Oehler began his coaching career.
He was an assistant coach for two schools in two seasons in Virginia. The last four years he was an assistant at Pennsville, a Tri-County Conference opponent of Gloucester's.
"It's a great opportunity in a division I know a lot about," Oehler said. "What I love is getting to coach at Gloucester, because they are tough, hard-nosed kids."
No more so than their new coach.
Anyone who can get behind the plate and take the physical pounding of a catcher exudes toughness.
With all the success he has had, Oehler says that the most important thing he learned from playing at so many great programs was to have fun. Of course, his teams won much more than they lost, which contributed to the fun, but he wants to make it an enjoyable experience for his players.
His sincerity, passion, and baseball knowledge were evident when he interviewed for the Gloucester job.
"John has a passion for baseball that comes through as soon as you talk to him," Gloucester athletic director Leon Harris said. "John has a great background as a player at the high school and college level, and he was just coaching at an excellent program, so we think he is going to do a good job."
Like many standout college players, Oehler dreamed of playing professionally. After two years of independent baseball he realized his best chance to stay involved with the game he loved was as a coach.
"I played a little minor-league ball, and I said if I couldn't be playing I would love to teach and coach, and it has happened that way," Oehler said.
He has had great role models, with people such as Rich Horan, who was his coach at Audubon and still is winning big there. With Brooklawn, he played for the Barths, Dennis and Joe Sr., so it's hard to think of a local player being more prepared with that type of instruction.
Now he hopes to emulate some of the great coaches he played for.
"I always wanted to run my own program and wanted it to be at a school [where] I think we could win and one that has a pretty good tradition," Oehler said.
That would be Gloucester, and now the school has an eager coach who excelled during his playing days, and there is no reason to think the pattern won't continue in his new role.
Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, email@example.com,
or @sjnard on Twitter.
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