Prep baseball

Washington Township catcher Connelly went from quitting to starting

2014-05-15T17:00:00Z 2014-05-15T21:16:19Z Washington Township catcher Connelly went from quitting to startingJim Peters james.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com

Three winters ago, Dan Connelly didn't see his baseball career progressing and the Washington Township sophomore decided to quit.

Senators coach Randy Roberts reacted with blunt indifference.

"I didn't really care," Roberts said. "If they come, I'll do everything I can to make them a ball player, but I don't beg anybody to play. I wasn't going to lose any sleep over it."

By the time the start of practice rolled around in March, Connelly realized he missed baseball much more than he expected. He went to Roberts, hat in hand, asking to return, and was given an apathetic nod.

"I didn't know what I'd be able to do without baseball," Connelly said. "I realized I wanted to get a lot better ... that if I actually tried, I might be able to start. My freshman year, I was just out there going through the motions. When I came back, I started to really care about it and put in the time."

The turnaround was dramatic. As the season progressed, Connelly reclaimed the starting spot and has been a fixture behind the plate since.

"He was just never very good," Roberts said. "He caught because he wanted to catch. In middle school, he couldn't hit the ball past first base and he couldn't throw much further. We were always looking around for someone else who might be able to catch. He's a kid who just kept working and got stronger. As a freshman, I don't think he would have made the team for any (Duneland Conference school). Now he could catch for any of them and not hurt anybody."

Switching positions was never an option for Connelly. His dad Kevin caught and Dan donned the gear from his first summer in baseball.

"I remember coach Roberts told me catchers are a different breed," he said. "You'd get hit by a foul ball and go to school the next day in a short-sleeved shirt to show (the bruise) off."

Connelly has earned the ultimate show of trust from Roberts by being allowed to call pitches. He's also helped guide an inexperienced pitching staff to a 15-5 record.

"All of a sudden, one day, he had an arm," Roberts said. "He's a very good defensive catcher. Last year, he had a great year behind the plate."

The hitting, not so much.

"We just couldn't get him to swing the bat," Roberts said. "He'd stand up there and watch strike three, three, four times. Over the course of the summer, working out in the winter, we told him there was really nothing to work on with his mechanics. He just needed to be aggressive."

Most of his junior season, Connelly was either slotted ninth in the order or didn't bat at all.

"I think I told myself I was going to be a defensive catcher and not worry about offense," he said. "Over the course of the season, I really hated not being able to hit, being the one guy who made an out all the time."

Connelly took Roberts' advice to heart. During a recent three-game stretch, he racked up 11 hits and and 12 RBIs, totals that may have exceeded his entire sophomore season.

"I'm seeing the ball pretty well," Connelly said. "I just told myself I wasn't going to watch any strikes. Everybody in front of me is getting on, which is forcing me to get a hit. It gives me a little extra motivation. I don't want to strand them. I'm confident I can go up and get a hit."

Outside of baseball, Connelly does odds and ends for Roberts and is part of his parking crew for the Porter County Fair. It's not always easy, but in the end, he appreciates his coach's tough love.

"It means a lot," he said. "He knows when we're not playing up to our potential. He expects the best out of all of us."

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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