By STEVE KRAH
With a young coach leading the way, the Eagles of Lake Station Edison Junior/Senior High School are looking to reach higher on the baseball diamond.
Ben Mahar, 25, is running the Lake Station program with the help of assistants Ryan Hodge and Matt Johnson.
The 2018 season will mark Mahar’s third at the Lake County school. Participation has increased each year. He started with about a dozen, moved to 18 last year (when he began teaching at the school) and this year has around 25 with Hodge doing much of the recruiting.
Mahar and company are working with eager athletes, but many of them do not have the baseball backgrounds of some teams on the Eagles’ schedule. Some are just coming to the game for the first time in high school.
“They have so talent but they haven’t been coached on how to use that talent,” says Mahar. “They lack the belief in themselves that they are able to compete at a higher level when they can.
“Instilling confidence is a very hard thing. It takes constant repetition in practice and them realizing that — after awhile — they can coach themselves.”
With knowledge, players can see for themselves where they need to make adjustments.
“The biggest thing is them building the accountability with each other.,” says Mahar “If they’re holding each other accountable, it makes our job a lot easier.
“We hold them to a higher standard because of what they’ve decided to do.”
He credits Crusaders head coach Brian Schmack for his emphasis on the competitive nature of baseball.
“If you were not competing with yourself, your teammates or the people in the dugout across from you, what were you doing it for?,” says Mahar. “That’s what Coach Hodge and I try to bring to the program at Lake Station.”
Hodge, who grew up playing baseball in northwest Indiana, left corporate America in 2011 and coordinates his work schedule around supporting the game of baseball in the Calumet Region.
Hodge and Mahar are hoping to bring a summer program for Lake Station players if not in 2018 then 2019.
“The kids want to do something,” says Hodge.
There’s also a unity and camaraderie factor.
“The more they’re hanging around each other, the better,” says Mahar.
Johnson played at Marquette Catholic in Michigan City and is working toward his teaching degree.
Mahar teaches world history. Is there a connection between that and baseball?
“Baseball is a conceptual learning process. You’re constantly learning in baseball,” says Mahar. “With history, you’re constantly learning how concepts in the past are affecting us today.”
This year, the conference is going away from Saturday doubleheaders and league games are to be played on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Mahar says winning conference games will be seen as no more or no less important than winning out-of-conference contests.
“Any time you step out on the field, you’re there to win a game,” says Mahar. “If we’re putting emphasis on one game or the other, it does a disservice to the opponent we’re playing it does a disservice to us.
“There’s no one game I’m seeking to win more than others. Winning every game is the important thing.”
Lake Station has an enrollment around 380 and competes in IHSAA Class 2A at state tournament time. With Bowman Academy and Gary Roosevelt sitting out the postseason, the 2017 Whiting Sectional was a four-teamer with Lake Station, Whiting, Hammond Bishop Noll and River Forest.
In program history, Lake Station has won four sectionals (1968, 1969, 1973 and 2005) and three regionals (1968, 1969 and 2005).
Baseball has evolved to the point where some program have “pitcher-only” players — aka “P.O.’s.” That was Mahar’s role as a high school senior and in college.
That won’t be the approach for the Eagles.
“For a program like us, we need everybody to pitch,” says Mahar.
A product of the travel baseball system, Mahar has seen the overuse of player’s arms.
He sees players attending showcases in December when their arm is not ready and they are on a path toward injury if they do not get a handle on proper arm care.
He intends to be careful with the arms of his Lake Station players.
As a part of the players taking ownership of the program and being accountable, they are responsible for the maintenance of the Eagles’ on-campus diamond. A list of duties is posted in the dugout.
“They take pride in taking care of the field,” says Mahar. “We’ve made significant improvements. We’ve re-done mound and the plate and edged the infield and it’s all the kids doing it.
“There’s always stuff that could be done. It’s their field.”
Lake Station Edison Junior/Senior High School baseball will be led in 2018 by head coach Ben Mahar (right) and assistants Ryan Hodge (left) and Matt Johnson (not pictured). (Steve Krah Photo)