By STEVE KRAH
Some athletes embrace the grind.
Others want nothing to do with it.
Mitch Roman is proud to be a grinder.
The former Hamilton Southeastern High School and Wright State University infielder played his first full professional season in 2017 and he knows it was the willingness to work that helped make it a success.
A 6-foot, 161-pound shortstop, Roman was chosen as a mid-season Class-A South Atlantic League all-star with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators. Swinging from the right side and primarily in the No. 2 hole for manager Justin Jirschele, he wound up the season with 516 at-bats and hit .254 with three home runs, 14 doubles, 45 runs batted in and eight stolen bases.
“I felt like it went well,” says Roman, who was selected in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox. “I outplayed what people thought I’d do.”
North Division champion Kannapolis lost to South Division winner Greenville in four games in the SAL Championship Series.
Roman, 22, played in 132 games in 2017 after 67 with rookie-level Great Falls and 62 with Wright State in 2016.
Through it all, he has just focused on enjoying each moment.
“You just go out there and have fun,” says Roman. “That’s all baseball is. Have fun and good things will happen.”
Mitch is the son of Dan Roman — the new Brownsburg High School head baseball coach who won 406 games at Lawrence Central and Carmel high schools after playing at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, Indiana State University and three seasons in pro baseball.
“He was a hard-nosed guy, but he just let me be myself,” says Mitch Roman of his father. “He never really forced me into anything. My mother (Leslie) would say giving 110 percent. But if you gave it your all, nobody would ever be mad at you.”
Older brother Brent (now 26) played some high school baseball and really excelled on the wrestling mat. Brent was a 125-pound IHSAA State Finals qualifier as a Hamilton Southeastern senior in 2010.
Mitch got another dose of determination playing at HSE for head coach Scott Henson. Taking over the Royals in Roman’s senior season (2013), Henson led them to the program’s first sectional title since 2004.
“He taught us to play tough,” says Mitch of Henson, a man he still communicates almost every week. “He was a hard-nosed coach but a player’s coach. He turned that program around.”
“He told us if you do things the right way, we’ll win games,” says Roman of Lovelady, the former University of Miami catcher who is now head coach at the University of Central Florida. “You move guys over and choke up with two strikes.”
In the upper Midwest, college and high school players find themselves heading indoors in November and not getting back outside until the season starts. At Wright State, Lovelady and his staff, which included Jeff Mercer (now the head coach and a Franklin Community High School graduate), insisted that the Raiders would not use the weather as an excuse.
“That’s what makes better teams,” says Roman. “We had to grind through that cold. There was grind and grit that every player put into that program.”
The Raiders went to the NCAA regional finals in both of two Roman’s seasons (2015, 2016).
A number of players from central Indiana have found their way into professional baseball by spending years making themselves better despite not having the chance to play outdoors year-round like some places in the country.
“It’s good baseball talent,” says Roman. “Guys who work hard for 18 years and come out of nowhere.”
Roman played travel baseball with the Hamilton Southeastern Royals then the Indiana Mustangs during his high school years. He had summer collegiate stops with the Grand Lake Mariners of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in 2014 and Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs of the Coast Plain League in 2015.
Getting ready for the 2018 grind, Roman will be working out and teaching at Power Alley Academy in Noblesville. Jay Lehr, who coached with Dan Roman at Carmel, is president and lead pitching instructor.
Mitch Roman (facing the camera), a 2013 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate and former Wright State University standout, played his first full professional baseball season in the Chicago White Sox system. (Kannapolis Intimidators Photo)