Raider’s positional odyssey detours to firstApril 20, 2017
By MICHAEL HUGHES
HUNTINGBURG — It’s a lot to remember, so Ross Eckert can’t help but appear a tad scatterbrained as he rattles through the different positions he’s occupied on a baseball diamond.
He started as a catcher. Wait, no, it was left field first before he moved behind the plate. Then he started pitching, but catchers don’t typically pitch so his initial stint on the mound was brief. At some point, the Southridge senior decided there was a simpler way to describe this.
“I’ve played pretty well everywhere except for second and center,” Eckert said. “I love playing baseball and wherever coach tells me to play, I’ll play, no questions asked. I’ll do whatever these guys need me to do.”
At the start of this season, Eckert was able to check off another spot on the field. When he reported to his first practice of the year, Raider coach Dave Schank told Eckert on top of his duties at third base, he needed to start taking reps at first.
“It was a little difficult at first just doing our specialties in practice,” Eckert said. “I’ve never really had to try to pick a ball off a bad throw. It’s different but I enjoy it. It’s fun to have a break from something I’ve always done.”
In Wednesday’s 11-3 loss to Class 3A No. 8 Evansville Memorial at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Eckert showed off his new skill. He picked shortstop Jayce Harter’s throw out of the dirt to end the first, and did the same for third baseman Logan Seger to conclude the second.
It’s a nice upgrade from when Eckert first started.
“I was kind of scared of it,” Eckert said. “I’d get my glove down there and my head would fall away from the ball, which is a no-no. It took a little time to get my head and my nose behind it, but once I figured out how to stay behind it, it became a lot easier to pick balls. I was finding that I wasn’t missing so many.”
Once he got over that fear of a ball bouncing up and smacking him in the face, Schank said he started looking like a natural first baseman digging balls out of the dirt.
It also helps Eckert, who also plays running back and safety on the football team and was a forward-turned-point guard at the end of basketball season, simply looks the part.
“You can ask any of those kids if they would rather throw it across the diamond to a big kid like Ross, or would you rather throw it to someone 5-9?” Schank said. “If you’re way over there you’re wanting to throw to a bigger target.”
Eckert had a clean slate on defense on a night that included five Southridge errors, all coming in the second and third innings. That’s also when Memorial (11-3) scored all its runs.
By the time Southridge (3-4) adjusted to Memorial’s hard-throwing Michael Lindauer, who was perfect through three innings, Eckert’s RBI single in the fourth and Harter’s in the fifth couldn’t do much.
“We had a ‘Bad News Bears’ inning,” Schank said. “What happens is one error puts us in an uncomfortable position and then we start thinking about it and it leads to another error. Then you’ve got kids thinking instead of ‘Hit it to me,’ they’re thinking, ‘Don’t hit it to me.’”
That’s also in part because Eckert’s not the only Raider occupying more than one spot on the field. Schank said he has a different defensive orientation for any pitcher that might take the hill.
On top of Eckert, Kade Allen also can play first base, like he did for the final four innings Wednesday when Eckert shifted back to third. So can Max Sermersheim, who’s still working his way back from a hamstring injury. Schank even has catcher Harrison Steckler and Seger starting to take some reps at the position.
“In my opinion, kids who have been playing baseball since they’re 5 years old ought to be able to play everywhere out there, except maybe pitcher or catcher if they’re athletic,” Schank said. “Most of our kids can do that.”
Eckert wouldn’t have it any other way. If Schank needs him to fill out his positional bingo card and play second base or center field, he’s more than willing.
“I wish I had 13 of him because then I wouldn’t need anybody else,” Schank said. “He has the most fire in his belly, I think he’s the happiest kid to come to the ballpark and he just wants to play. He’d play every day.”
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