PREP BASEBALL

Wheeler baseball player Crussen refuses to let his size be a deterrent

2013-05-16T17:00:00Z 2013-05-16T19:56:04Z Wheeler baseball player Crussen refuses to let his size be a deterrentJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com

Too small, too slow, too weak.

Wheeler's Tyler Crussen heard it over and over again as a young player.

"I had a lot of people tell me I'd never see the field, I'd never play varsity baseball," he said. "That stuff sticks in your head forever. You don't forget."

As a freshman, Crussen stood 5-foot-5 and weighed 115 pounds. At a Purdue camp, he was told his speed and arm strength needed to improve dramatically to ever have a chance to play in college.

"I went in my room and wrote down all the things people said. It took me four hours," Crussen said. "I woke up with it every day. It ticked me off whenever I'd see it. It really drives you. When people tell you what you can and can't do, there's nothing better than to prove them wrong."

Crussen fielded grounders by the hundred and took hitting lessons. He did speed training and became a weight room regular.

"You could tell he was going to be good not because he was blessed with all kinds of talent but because his work ethic was far beyond the average high schooler," Bearcats coach Josh Long said. "He's what a coach dreams of having."

As a sophomore, Crussen played varsity with modest success. He was getting better, but wasn't where he wanted to be.

"People would say, 'You're pretty good for a little guy,'" Crussen said. "I want them to say, 'You're pretty good for a baseball player.'"

It began to come together last year when he broke the Wheeler season record for singles with 41. Ironically, Crussen's dad Mike holds the same mark at Hobart.

"I started getting more confident," he said. "I got a lot of hits laying bunts down. My dad would throw hats down in certain places and I'd have to bunt into the hats. I feel like I almost perfected the skill. It's definitely something good when you're struggling."

Crussen played football in the fall and continued to pound the iron. His name is now all over the record board for his weight range. He bench presses 245 pounds, roughly 100 above his weight. He's also taken over half a second off his 60-yard dash time.

His singles are now becoming doubles.

"I developed the power to take the ball to the gap," Crussen said.

Some of those two-baggers are also a result of Crussen busting it full speed out of the batter's box.

"You don't have to yell at him for not running out a pop up," Long said.

Crussen is hitting .437 with 11 doubles, 14 stolen bases, 16 RBIs and 22 runs, sparking a young Wheeler team during a 10-2 stretch that came on the heels of a 2-8 start.

"We took some lumps early, but he took it in stride and guided the team in the right direction," Long said. "A coach's voice only goes so far. You need someone on the team to echo it so they believe it. He can talk the talk, but a leader walks the walk, and he's a great leader."

The time and effort has paid off in another big way for Crussen, who will play at Harper College. If his plane of improvement continues at its current rate, he hopes it will lead him to a Division-I school in two years.

"I want to play as long as I can," Crussen said.

His success is a source of inspiration to any undersized player struggling to compete.

"We've got an eighth grader who's pretty good, but he's littler than I was," Crussen said. "It can't tear you down. It has to build you up. Keep swinging. Keep working."

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