Archive for Thursday, June 23, 2005

Catching up with Kohl

Former Lion makes his mark at Morningside, with Cavalry

June 23, 2005

Moments after the Lansing Cavalry's first loss of the season Thursday, center fielder Tom Kohl huddled his teammates together just outside of their dugout.

Kohl didn't like the fact that his team beat themselves in a game against the Lawrence Outlaws by committing six errors to go with just three hits on offense in an 8-0 defeat.

Kohl didn't like any of it, but that wasn't what he wanted to talk about. As far as Kohl was concerned, that stuff was in the past. He just wanted to make sure the rest of the Cavalry saw it the same way.

In his usual upbeat style, Kohl encouraged his teammates to take out any frustrations on the other teams in the tournament.

It was the kind of speech players hear from their coaches and oftentimes shrug off, but this came from a teammate the rest of the Cavalry respect and admire.

This was classic Tom Kohl, and his teammates responded. They played better against a tougher Topeka team Thursday night, though they lost 10-2, but bounced back to throttle Shawnee Mission East, 10-7, on Friday.

"He gives us a leader figure, especially since he's older and he's played in college," Cavalry catcher Lonnie Hansen said. "He's such a good influence on everybody. He just stays up. He doesn't get down. Everyone sees that he's played in college and he does it like this. He really leads the guys in the right direction."

That veteran influence is why Cavalry coach Jake Hanson eagerly welcomed Kohl onto the squad in the first place. Kohl, a 2004 graduate of Lansing High and the 2005 Rookie of the Year on the baseball team at Morningside College, is the only college player on Lansing's roster. Hanson knew his players admired Kohl for his accomplishments as a four-year starter at LHS, and he knew Kohl had plenty to share after his first year of college ball.

"He's going to be huge for us," Hanson said. "Just having one (college player) is big for us, because most of the teams we play have a few (college players). Your center fielder has to be somewhat of a leader. He's got to take charge out there, and Tom fits that profile to a T. He does so many little things, and he's got so much experience."

THE NEXT LEVEL

As an LHS senior in 2004, Tom Kohl was the go-to guy on the Lions' baseball team. He hit .402 and had blazing speed and a pinpoint accurate throwing arm. When the Lions needed a clutch hit or a big play, Kohl was the man they turned to.

That changed when Kohl arrived at Morningside, a college in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was reduced to being a backup to senior Chad Kerr. Kohl said the experience was new, but he approached it with an open mind.

"It was definitely a learning experience, and that's the way I tried to look at it," Kohl said. "I knew coming in as a freshman I wasn't going to be one of the go-to guys like I was when I left here, so when I got there, I took a step back mentally and just tried to learn from everyone around me.

"When you get into college, those guys can play ball, and there's so much to learn. As long as you take the game in, just sitting on the bench watching, you can learn so much."

Kohl's patience paid off. He saw action in 34 games as an outfielder and designated hitter and was the squad's Rookie of the Year. He helped the Mustangs post a 42-18-1 record - the best in school history - and earn a trip to the NAIA Region IV Tournament.

COMING HOME

Kohl spent most of his high school summers playing with the Lansing Huskies, but when he returned from his first year at Morningside, the Huskies no longer were around.

The Cavalry had an opening, however, and Kohl said he jumped at the chance to play in his hometown again.

"I think it's just a great opportunity," he said. "I wanted to play ball, and to play ball back in Lansing - I could not pass up that chance."

Kohl found he was welcome the moment he stepped back onto the field at LHS.

"Everybody looks up to him," said Cody Mohan, a pitcher and infielder for the Cavalry. "He's definitely the role model on the team, and when you idolize someone, you try to act as they do. He provides the act of working hard to get better, and that's helping us all get better."

Kohl's influence has been heavy during the first three weeks of the season. They've displayed fearlessness and enthusiasm - both Kohl traits.

They've aggressively taken the extra base when an opportunity has presented itself - a classic Kohl trademark.

They also have refused to get down on themselves. That may be the area Kohl has helped most. Whether it's been offering a few words of advice to a younger player after a strikeout or error, or high-fiving someone after a sacrifice fly, Kohl has kept the Cavalry on an even keel.

"I love Tom because he's always positive," Mohan said. "When you come in the dugout, he's always on himself but never on anybody else. He keeps you going and he keeps you up."

EYES ON THE FUTURE

Kohl said he still dreams of playing professional baseball.

"That's a great dream, and it's something I'm working toward." Kohl said.

If that dream is going to become a reality, Kohl knows he has plenty of work to do. He knows there are plenty of areas he can touch up his game to improve his chances. Still, Hanson, the Cavalry coach, said Kohl's game is about as fundamentally sound as he's seen.

"He's probably the best center fielder I've ever seen," Hanson said. "I played in college, and I never had anybody close to that. He catches everything out there. He's got a pinpoint arm. He can drive gaps. There's no weaknesses there. You could make a real good argument that he's a five-tool player."

Regardless of what the future holds, however, Kohl said he's going to keep playing baseball his way and keep having fun. If that leads him to the big leagues, he'd be thrilled.

"I'd like to (play professionally)," he said. "Right now it's hard to tell if it'll happen. But I think that's every kid's dream, and I'm still living it."

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