BY LUKE ERIKSEN, ’22.
When the senior captain of the UA Varsity Baseball team Mitch McConnell was announced the starting catcher, he knew he had big shoes to fill.
Since McConnell was a freshman, all three starting catchers before him have gone on to play club or college baseball: Sammy Sass for Wright State University, Matthew Green for Marietta College and Joe Hendrix for a club team at The Ohio State University.
“It’s always been a good community around the catchers, and it’s been some pretty high-level competition,” McConnell said.
Even with the pressure to perform like the catchers before him, McConnell separates himself with his high baseball IQ.
“I feel like my mental game of baseball, I don’t think it can really be coached. Some people are 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and hit home runs, but they struggle with the mental side of baseball. I just kinda learned over the years of watching baseball and playing a lot [to] where my mental game is at the top of the line,” he said.
McConnell, at 5-foot-9, is not the largest kid on the field, and he has found it difficult to find a voice in the program.
“I’ve always been like a smaller guy on the field. It’s been challenging to get respect from teammates. I always kind of felt like my voice was small in the program,” McConnell said. “Being a captain made me feel like I had a place in the program. It was a really big thing for my self-esteem, and it felt good to be named.”
McConnell isn’t a big hitter, but he has found himself in the lineup because of his tactical hitting and strong fielding skills.
“One of my strong suits offensively is bunting. …. And then defensively I can receive the ball really well. I can steal a lot of strikes which is a catcher term for tricking the umpire and making the pitcher look like [they threw] strikes. I think that’s my main strong suit,” he said.
McConnell is a part of Coach Sam Clark’s first senior class—the first class to spend all four years with Clark. When McConnell was a freshman, Clark took the team to a regional semifinal.
“Coach Clark has kind of brought the program together, and what I think he has done best is he personal[ly] cares about everyone not only in [a] baseball sense, but he cares deeper than that,” McConnell said. “I think that culture has given us [the team] a tighter relationship…It drives us on and off the baseball field.”
Although he admits baseball games aren’t always the most entertaining, McConnell encourages fans to come to UA baseball games this season.
“I cannot watch a game on TV all the way through; I only can watch 15 minute recaps, but the energy we bring is unmatched. Our pitching staff in particular and I think Michael Glaser can lead us and brings a different kind of energy to the game. We are all screaming and between innings, we are chirping [trash-talking] the other team—not in a mean way—and it’s been a really fun environment. When it’s game time we are serious, but when it’s not, we have fun,” he said.