By STEVE KRAH
Nate Hemmerich has traveled 3,700 miles from home for adventure and baseball.
A Kokomo, Ind., resident and pitcher at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., is exploring and playing this summer with the Alaska Baseball League’s Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks.
The season for the league that also features the Anchorage Bucs, Anchorage Glacier Pilots, Matsu Miners and Peninsula Oilers began June 5. The ABL playoffs are to begin July 30. The independent Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks (who have been host to the Midnight Sun Game since 1906) are to visit Chugiak-Eagle River July 6.
“It’s been amazing,” says Hemmerich of his first month Way Up North. “The competition is really, really good. Alaska is beautiful. You can’t go anywhere without seeing a moose, a bear or a mountain.
“The hospitality that they’ve provided is amazing.”
Hemmerich’s host family in the village of Eagle River — about 15 minutes from Anchorage — has taken he and his roommate to fish for sockeye salmon in the Russian River and go on long trail hikes.
Animal lover and Biochemistry major Hemmerich plans to go to veterinary school after college.
The Chinooks are a faith-based team affiliated with Athletes In Action Baseball. They meet each gameday for discipleship, essentially a Bible study of up to 90 minutes.
Hemmerich played for the Richmond (Ind.) Jazz in 2019. The Xenia (Ohio) Scouts are an AIA team that plays in the same circuit (Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League).
He saw what the Scouts were able and decided to apply for a chance to play in Alaska and was accepted.
When the 2020 ABL season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic Hemmerich, 22, was invited to come this year.
As it turns out the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder did not play last summer and instead had shoulder labrum surgery.
Hemmerich got into six games as a freshman in 2019 and four as a sophomore in 2020. That spring he tore his labrum.
“I didn’t realize I was hurt,” says Hemmerich. “There was pain initially when I would start throwing. Once I got going and got loose the pain would go away.”
Then it got to the point where he could not lift his right shoulder above his head and there was a popping/clicking noise that caused him to have it checked out.
“I was struggling mentally and with my shoulder,” says of the spring at Earlham, where he got into five games.
So far in Alaska he has already made five mound appearances in the Chinooks’ first 19 games and is regaining his form and gaining confidence.
“I’ve worked on my mechanics to eliminate some of the stress on the shoulder,” says Hemmerich. “I’m taking my recovery more seriously. I’m working to strengthen (the shoulder) back to before I got injured.”
Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Hemmerich uses both two- and four-seam fastballs, a modified “circle” change-up and a slider.
“It’s more slurve-y,” says Hemmerich of the latter pitch. “There’s more left to right movement than up and down.”
The Chinooks play their games in Chugiak on Lee Jordan Field. Jon Groth is the head coach. Chris Beck is the pitching coach, director of operations and general manager. Troy Hervey also helps with the pitching staff.
Born in Indianapolis, Hemmerich moved to Kokomo at age 2. He began organized baseball as a T-baller at what is now known as UCT Youth Baseball.
For his 13U and 14U summers, he played for the Mike Wade-coached Indiana Bulls. He was with Jay Lehr’s Aces Baseball Club teams at 15U and 16U. Eric Osborn and Eric Dill coached the Indiana Nitrro 17U team that included Hemmerich.
The summer before he went to college (2018) Hemmerich played for Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6.
Sean Swan was the head coach at Kokomo High School when Hemmerich donned the Wildkats uniform. They still stay in-touch though Swann is now an assistant principal at Kettering (Ohio) Middle School.
Hemmerich was drawn to Earlham by Quakers head coach Steve Sakosits.
“He’s a high-energy guy,” says Hemmerich of Coach Sak. “He’s hard not to like. He’s got that personality.
“He’s going to coach you hard. He’s going to be straight up with you about what your role is and what you need to get better.”
Beau Smith is Earlham’s pitching coach. Hemmerich says he has at least two years of remaining eligibility at the NCAA Division III school.
Nate is the son of Mike and Sarah Hemmerich and brother of Olivia Hemmerich. Mike Hemmerich works in the Kokomo High School bookstore and helps on Sports Information Director Terry Downham’s football and basketball stat crew. Sarah Hemmerich is a KHS teacher and girls tennis head coach. Olivia Hemmerich is heading into her senior year as a Wildkat.