Sports

Einspahr, Hanson making it in the midwest

Hitting a fastball is considered one of the most difficult skills in all of sport.

South Kitsap High School graduates Travis Hanson (1998) and Matt Einspahr (2000) all but admitted baseball spoiled them in their youthful days.

Easily two of the greatest hitters to come out of Port Orchard, the duo earned scholarships to Division I colleges.

Hanson’s success continued at the University of Portland, where he starred for three years before being drafted in the ninth round by the St. Louis Cardinals last spring.

Einspahr still has two years left at the University of California-Berkeley, but he’s getting a taste of what professional baseball feels like as a member of the LaCrosse (Wisc.) Loggers of the Northwoods League.

It’s a semi-pro team of college players who play two hard months of wooden bat baseball throughout towns in Canada, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

After short-season rookie “A” ball in New Jersey last summer, Hanson is in his first full season with the Single-A Peoria Chiefs in Illinois.

While he deserves to be where he is, Hanson has quickly learned why professional baseball spits out players like Mike Tyson spits out a new profanity.

“It’s a mental grind,” Hanson said. “We play 140 games in 149 days.”

His numbers show it, too.

He’s currently batting .271, but he’s putting up power numbers with a team-leading 59 RBI and 27 doubles. He’s also legged out four triples and smacked six home runs through a team-leading 387 at-bats.

He earned a spot on the Single-A all-star team, going 1-for-2 with an RBI.

Einspahr thought his season was grueling having to play 64 games in 68 days.

But after a phone conversation with Hanson, Einspahr admitted his season is nothing compared to what Hanson faces. However, it is a glimpse of what he will face when or if he gets drafted in a couple of years.

Einspahr has boosted his stock after being named to the league all-star game after hitting .326 at the midway point with five doubles, eight home runs, and 50 RBI.

Since then, he’s dipped below .300 with a steady .293 batting average.

What’s impressive is his strikeouts-to-at-bats ratio. He’s only fanned 23 times in 164 at-bats.

Both players say the toughest part of playing every day is maintaining focus.

“The hardest part is just focusing on every at-bat,” Einspahr said. “It’s an arduous task.”

Hanson said not dwelling on a game is something new to him.

“In college, you play three or four games and you have time to reflect on your at-bats,” Hanson said. “Here, you don’t have time to dwell. You have to forget the last at-bat and focus on the next one.”

Einspahr does have one advantage over Hanson — familiarity with his surroundings.

Einspahr is staying with his grandparents Phillip and Violet Swan, whereas Hanson rents an apartment with a teammate.

“Peoria is OK, but to be honest, I can’t stand the midwest,” Hanson said. “I can’t wait to see blue skies and blue water,” he said.

Reminded St. Louis is in the midwest, Hanson retorted, “Yeah, but you don’t play every game in the midwest.”

While Einspahr finishes out the last five weeks of the season, Hanson is trying to help his team win a Single-A championship.

While a call-up to a Double-A team is possible, Hanson said management has told the players they want the nucleus of players to stay together and focus on winning championships.

Einspahr will have the luxury of having three weeks off before heading back to school, where he has played catcher, third base and outfield.

He said he hopes to shake off the utility role and focus on one position this year.

Hanson, meanwhile, will play through September and possibly play winter ball to gear up for the next season.

“It can be tough but this is what I want to do,” he said.

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