Little big league

Marshalltown’s Nate Vance is T-R’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year

T-R FILE PHOTO

He could feel the looks. He heard the doubt. He saw the smirks.

“That’s Marshalltown’s ace?” they would whisper, looking down at the shortest guy on the opposing team.

“I get that all the time,” said Marshalltown High School graduate Nate Vance. “If I’m so small, let’s go 1-v-1. I pitch, you bat.”

All the condescension combined with an unmatched work-ethic and a whole lot of belief created a chip on the shoulder that Marshalltown’s diminutive left-handed pitcher carried

with him to the mound and helped him to become the Times-Republican’s 2018 All-Area Baseball Player of the Year.

Vance was on the mound for nearly 30 percent of the Marshalltown baseball team’s innings pitched this past summer, including all 14 innings of the substate that the Bobcats won to claim their first state tournament berth since 2009. He lasted 5 1/3 frames on the hill at Principal Park in Des Moines before eventual state champion Urbandale knocked him off the bump, closing out one of the more storied careers in Bobcat baseball history less than a week after an EF-3 tornado crippled his hometown.

T-R GRAPHIC

Vance led Marshalltown in innings pitched in each of his last three summers, wrapping up his career with 238 innings pitched — ranking third behind only Reggie Stalzer and Joey Trowbridge in the Bobcat record books. His 24 career wins chart him fifth in MHS history.

And yeah, he could hit a bit, too.

Vance collected 120 hits and 98 runs scored in his four-year baseball career, both of which rank ninth in school history. His 67 stolen bases are good for 12th, and his 73 walks are the fifth-most by a Bobcat.

And there really aren’t numbers to quantify is impact defensively as a standout center fielder in Marshalltown’s spacious home ballpark, but 25-year head coach Steve Hanson offered his perspective.

“Nate Vance is one of those rare players who comes along every decade or so,” he said. “I’m confident he could play on any team we’ve ever had here at MHS. Nate Vance could be on the field somewhere and he could help somehow. I don’t know if he would be the best pitcher and I don’t know if he would be the best hitter and I don’t know if he’d be the best outfielder, but he’d be among them, and he’d give you a better chance to win.”

Asked and answered.

Vance stood tall on the mound at Marshalltown, though it took him some time to climb that far. He always knew his future leaned toward golf, even if baseball always occupied a part of his heart. Now a freshman at Loyola University Chicago and a member of the Ramblers’ men’s golf squad, Vance took some time recently to reflect on how hard it was for him to make the decision that ultimately played a pivotal role in getting the 2018 Marshalltown baseball team back to the state tournament.

“My junior year, it was ‘do I go and try to play in big [junior golf] tournaments [in the summer] or do I continue playing baseball,” Vance said. “I had two more years to play baseball in my life and I couldn’t turn that down, but my junior year I didn’t do that well pitching, I didn’t hit real well, and there were opportunities I gave up in golf and I didn’t capitalize in baseball.”

Having already forgone a summer of touring the region for golf, Vance made the most of his senior year. The Marshalltown High School boys’ golf team captured the Class 4A fall golf championship and Vance, on the strength of a sudden-death playoff eagle on the 18th hole at Elmwood Country Club, won medalist honors.

By the springtime he had committed to golf at Loyola and made it official on May 22 — the same day as the Bobcat baseball team played its opening game. Vance pitched three innings that night in Newton, earning his first of nine wins this summer.

He went on to pitch a total of 72 2/3 innings for the Bobcats, which ranked third in 4A and fourth in the entire state. He struck out 74 batters and posted a 2.22 earned run average while also leading the offense with a .349 batting average, 31 runs scored, a triple, 20 stolen bases and a .450 on-base percentage.

And he did it all while standing just 5 feet, 7 1/4 inches off the ground, “but who’s measuring?” he joked.

“I just try to go out there and gain some respect,” Vance said of being the ‘little guy’ on the mound. “I think it gives you a little chip on your shoulder. You have to work a little harder in the weight room.

“When I went to the IHSBCA Senior All-Star Series, those guys were like, ‘who is this kid? This is the guy?’ Just through the high school team I was able to earn respect with the guys, and I’m trying to do that here now [at Loyola].

Nate’s mom Anne (Hendrickson) Vance played NCAA Division I college basketball at Central Michigan, dad Jeff was a D-II All-American wrestler at Northwestern College in Orange City, and big brother Jon played linebacker and nose guard at Missouri S&T, a D-II program in Rolla, Mo. At 5-9, Jon was the tall one under the Vance’s roof.

“As I was growing up, he had the same exact problem,” Nate said of Jon’s football career. “He went out for a sport that doesn’t go for short guys but he always worked through it. He had a pretty successful high school career, went off to play in college, and he always talked about going up to meet a fullback or a swinging tackle and getting destroyed by some guy who’s 6-4 and a biscuit over 300 pounds.

“I grew up as a little kid playing sports as a short guy. Mom played basketball at Central Michigan and she’s 5-2 3/4. She’s got that chip on her shoulder, too. She’s very competitive. Growing up it’s a natural instinct in everything you do. Everyone in the Vance household had to play being below-average height. My parents, as I was growing up, were always saying it doesn’t matter.”

It sure didn’t seem to matter much when Vance was on the mound or at the plate just how tall he was. He got the job done time and time again, which is something that won him Hanson’s respect over the last four years.

“Nate was a four-year letterwinner, which is a rarity in itself for us, but he really developed over the years,” said Hanson. “When he played as an undersized freshman, he really had to rely on guile to get by on the mound and at the plate. The game was very challenging for Nate when he was young, but he kept his nose down and developed. By the time he was a senior, Nate could throw the ball right by most hitters but still possessed the ability to be creative if he had to.”

Vance’s junior season, which followed his decision to stick with baseball instead of focusing solely on his golf career, was statistically his worst of his four years. He went 4-6 with a 3.28 ERA on the mound, walking half as many opposing batters as he struck out.

By the time his senior season was complete, Vance chalked it all up to the experience.

“Coach Hanson definitely has his tough side that I got more of a taste when I was a freshman and sophomore, but I was able to gain a little respect,” Vance said. “He’s big on the whole hard work thing in the offseason, and to buy into that is hard with the hitting and throwing programs.

“I think I threw maybe 78 or 79 [miles per hour] junior year and this year I hit 85 once or twice. To get that bump is huge, and just the subtle things coach Hanson teaches gets one extra out per game makes a difference in two or three games, and maybe those games change our seed in substates and maybe we’re not down at Principal Park.”

Hanson said Vance’s understanding of the minutia helped to make him one of the best Bobcats to come through the program in the last 25 years, but only because of the edge he played with when applying those details on the field.

“No task was too great or opponent too strong,” Hanson said. “Nate was a great teammate who parlayed intelligence, effort and ability into first-team all-state recognition. Because of his size, I’m sure many people underestimated Nate’s ability. Those are the folks who wound up carrying their bats back to the dugout.

“We’ll surely miss Nate’s ability on the field next year, but we’ll really miss his willingness to cooperate and do the heavy lifting for others. Nate really understood how we want guys to play the game, which made having him in the program for four years a lot of fun.”

2018 Times-Republican All-Area Baseball Team

Player of the Year — Nate Vance, sr., Marshalltown

Coach of the Year — Steve Hanson, Marshalltown

FIRST TEAM

Pitchers — Carter Kriegel, jr., South Tama County; Justin Ridout, sr., East Marshall; Liam Stubbe, sr., AGWSR; Tyler Tscherter, so., Gladbrook-Reinbeck.

Catchers — Brad Barkema, sr., BCLUW; Kody Ricken, sr., Marshalltown.

Infielders — Wade Canaday, jr., Marshalltown; Alex Dickey, sr., West Marshall; Zane Johnson, sr., East Marshall; Lane Koch, sr., South Tama County; Walker Thede, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck.

Outfielders — Troy Dolphin, sr., BCLUW; Blake Mann, sr., BCLUW; Bronson Wrage, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck.

Utility — Cameron Bannister, jr., West Marshall; Hale Hulme, jr., North Tama; Cael Kellogg, jr., South Tama County.

HONORABLE MENTION

Dru Dobbins, jr., Marshalltown; Austin Elliott, so., East Marshall; Kolton Gill, jr., GMG; Joseph Harris, so., Marshalltown; Matthew Hill, sr., Colo-NESCO; Kyle Koppen, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Tate Kuehner, jr., Marshalltown; Ben Macy, fr., AGWSR; Skyler Staker, so., North Tama; Jake Tollefson, jr., West Marshall; Garret Weldon, sr., Grundy Center.

Previous T-R All-Area Baseball Players of the Year

2017 — Ross Randall, West Marshall

2016 — Nick Long, East Marshall

2015 — Nick Long, East Marshall

2014 — Kolton Smith, South Tama County

2013 — Jared Riemenschneider, West Marshall

2012 — Kyle Carnahan, Marshalltown

2011 — Brendon Boerm, North Tama

2010 — Nick Thimesch, Marshalltown

2009 — Jimmy Six, Marshalltown

2008 — Tyler Peschong, Marshalltown

2007 — Austin Swartz, Marshalltown

2006 — Doug Eisenman, Grundy Center; Jake Edwards, East Marshall

2005 — Jacob Phipps, East Marshall