HOBART | At an open gym before the start of the baseball season, Hobart pitcher Brandon Murray spotted an unmistakable sight across the gym.
Hard to miss at 6-foot-5, lefty eighth-grader Jake Sweeney was throwing the ball.
"I was in a similar situation when I was younger, I came to practice with the varsity," Murray said. "He's a big kid with a lot of potential, I mean he's 6-5, he's bigger than me and he's a lefty. He's got so much potential that I want to help him out, not just for this year's team, but next year's team, when I'm not here, to be able to keep the team winning, and keep helping out the pitching staff and do what it takes to help the other guys, I'm happy to do it."
Coming from a senior who has spent his baseball offseason traveling the country after being named among the top players in the nation, then seeing himself pitch on television, that's high praise indeed.
From the perspective of a coach watching that, it was "neat" to see, said Brickies' skipper Bob Glover Jr.
"One of the great things about him is that he's not arrogant at all," Glover said. "You'd think that some of the things that he experienced in the last year or so, you might change you a little bit in that way. He really, genuinely cares about our program.
"For about a half hour after he could have been done and going home he stayed and worked with that kid. That's the thing about him as an individual, he really cares about the whole team and really feels invested in this. We've come a long way in the four years that he and the other seniors have been here and he really wants to see that continue after he's gone."
Murray enters the season as a Perfect Game Second Team All-America selection. He's the only player from Indiana on the top three teams. This summer, he played in the 2013 USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, worked out at the Team USA Trials, pitched at the Area Code Games, won a national tournament in Jupiter, Fla., played in the All-American Classic and pitched at the MetroDome, Dodger Stadium and Petco Park.
His fast ball hangs out around the mid 90s, and he can throw four pitches — fast ball, curve, slider and change-up — for strikes.
Don Olson, a scout at the Tournament of Stars, wrote for bigleaguefutures.net: "Brandon has an ideal height with narrow athletic build, little bit of development in the hips and rear in a Jeremy Bonderman type mold. Good push drive from the lower half; arm shows a little wrap and elevation with a decent slot at plant. Really good weight transfer and extension allows him to keep it down in the zone constantly. Really good arm speed and drive using the entire body. He is a solid athlete that fields well, shows the one step lateral agility, high caliber athlete. Fastball was 92-93 (94) mph, with a bit of hand side tail with the ¾ delivery. Curve, 79-81, flashed some depth and solid 11/5 type movement in a power curve type offering. He did not show a change up in event. Good athlete and some items too iron, but arm speed you want to see."
Said Glover: "His control (has improved), which has been a steady progression since he came up with us, and we knew that would be the case. If you've followed his stat line all through high school, he's reduced his walks every year and he's the best he's ever been in that regard right now. Lots of times in games in the past when he didn't fare very well when he was at his best is maybe he'd run up his pitch count a little higher than it should be just throwing too many balls adding extra base runners here and there just because he walked them. That's the area that I think that people who have followed him the last few years are going to be really impressed with him. He's learned a lot and he's applied what he's learned, and I think he's not just the physical aspect of throwing more strikes but mentally he gets that he's hurting himself and he's committed to fixing that. It'll be pretty special."
Murray set the school mark for strikeouts in a single season (111) and in a career (266). If his last two seasons are any indication — 105 as a sophomore, 111 as a junior — his final number as this season ends will be a tough task to match.
For all of his pitching accolades, Murray is also tough to pitch around. He holds the record for single-season doubles, set last year at 19. Tyrus Joseforsky, who was battling Murray all year for the doubles mark, holds the career record for doubles at 35, and is also in his senior season.
"(Murray's) got a ton of power," Glover said. "We were on the field wrapping up our fall workouts and we had one day where we were just throwing him batting practice on the field and he hit six out of 10 swings for home runs, just in that little stretch. It's not fair to ask someone to be that great all the time, but if you're around him you see some pretty remarkable things every once in a while."
For every coach he worked with this summer, Murray absorbed every droplet of information. He said he learned an equal amount about the mental aspects of the game playing on teams with some of the other top pitchers in the country.
"From my point of view, I went as a pitcher, I really learned about the mental side of the game to become a pitcher and not a thrower," Murray said. "Really when they're molding guys to become professional athletes, that's when the mental game becomes a bigger and bigger part of your game each time. Not just a thrower trying to throw it by people. There's a specific approach and a specific plan for each hitter and to be able to pick up on their tendencies and see what they're doing, if they have some tells and weaknesses, and really become more observant on the mound. Really, it's going to help you in the long run at higher levels to be more successful against the really advanced hitters."
Having learned from some of the best, he's happy to pass along everything he knows to whomever he can. Even if his pupil is a 6-5 eighth grader.
"(Sweeney's) going to have to step up quick," Murray said. "He's 13, and has a heck of an arm on him. He's going to be able to fill some spots pretty well."