Baseball is a game of numbers and for Shane Prance, age is just another statistic.
Less than a year after graduating from Purdue North Central, he is the Panthers' head baseball coach at 24.
"There aren't any numbers out there, but I might be the youngest head coach in the country," Prance said. "That part hasn't really hit me. I've been around baseball my whole life. It's my comfort zone. I've always known I wanted to coach baseball. It was kind of a right place, right time thing."
A late bloomer as a player, Prance worked his way up to being Portage's ace. After graduating in 2008, he went on to pitch for PNC, setting three records and matching a fourth as a senior.
Following a 2012 summer stint with the Schaumburg Boomers, he latched on as a PNC assistant last season, handling the pitchers and much of the recruiting for coach John Weber while finishing up work on his Liberal Studies degree. Prance had already taken the full-time position of Athletics and Activities Coordinator after receiving his diploma. The baseball position opened after Weber became Dean of Students.
"John left a lot in my hands. It was learn on the fly or see ya' later," Prance said. "Working with John, coaching with John, I knew his style, the way he did things. It's more than just teaching baseball. You're developing young men. I'll take what I learned from him and pass it on, and bring a fresh outlook because I'm younger."
The biggest challenge for Prance might be establishing a line between coach and player, given the small age difference.
"I played with the seniors and some of the juniors," he said. "They have to know I'm their coach. We're friends outside of baseball."
Larry Blake, Sr., the program's first coach, and graduate assistant Tyson Blattner will comprise the staff.
"We joke around that I'm the mental, Tyson's the physical and Larry's the wisdom," Prance said. "It'll be great to have them around, to bounce off ideas. I'm sure I'll be second-guessing myself a lot."
Prance takes over an established program that consistently competes for the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference title and regularly qualifies for the post-season tournament. It has had six players sign professional contracts and its current roster includes three Division I transfers.
"We still have a ways to go, but I want to get the word out that we're for real," Prance said. "I came in thinking it wasn't a big deal, but it's good competition. We're not afraid to play the big schools even though we're a small school."
The big pitch for Prance is the chance to play baseball close to home while earning a Purdue degree. For a roster of 25 to 30, PNC has a modest scholarship budget of $10,500. Thanks to the Midwest Student Exchange Program, it can offer in-state tuition rates to players from an eight-state area. The team plays at its Westville campus and ground was recently broken on a multi-purpose indoor facility targeted for the fall of 2016.
"On the academic side, everything that they need to succeed is provided here," Prance said. "It's up to them to make the choice."
About one-third of PNC's current roster is of local origin. Prance wants to tap the region's baseball resources much more.
"There's a ton of local talent," he said. "A lot of it is overlooked. It's a great program for local guys. I speak from experience."