By STEVE KRAH
Kyle Wade got the chance to be an athletic leader at a young age.
He was an eighth grader in Kokomo, Ind., and attending football workouts when Kokomo High School head coach Brett Colby let him know the expectations of the program and the community.
“This is your team next year” says Wade, recalling the words Colby said to the varsity Wildkats’ heir apparent at quarterback as a freshman in the fall of 2014. “On our first thud (in practice), I think I stuttered the words and dropped the ball.
“(Colby) told me, ‘you can’t show weakness to your teammates’ and ‘never act like you can’t.’ I took that to heart.”
Wade went on to be a four-year starter and earned the IHSAA Class 5A Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award as Kokomo finished as state runners-up in 2017. He was also a four-year starter at shortstop in baseball for head coach Sean Wade and played three varsity basketball seasons — freshman and sophomore for Matt Moore and senior for Bob Wonnell.
“Coach Swan was positive, but he wasn’t afraid to get on us,” says Wade of his high school baseball experience. “(Swan) trusted us.
“We were an older team with a lot of guys who would go on to Power 5 (college) baseball (including Class of 2018’s Jack Perkins to Louisville and Bayden Root to Ohio State and Class of 2020’s Charez Butcher to Tennessee).”
Wade appreciates Moore for his organization skills and discipline.
“His scouting reports were next level,” says Wade. “Coach Wonnell won a state tournament (Class 1A at Tindley in 2017). He asked me about playing again (as a senior). He wanted a leader. He helped keep me in shape (Wade was 235 pounds at the end of his senior football season and 216 at the close of the basketball season).”
A combination of physicality, basketball I.Q. gained from having a father as a former Kokomo head coach (2000-05), he played on the front line — even guarding 7-footers.
“Being in the (North Central Conference) as a undersized center is not for the weak-heated.
“I had to mature. I’ve led by by example, pushing guys to get better and motivated to play. I’ve had to have mental toughness. I’ve never been one of the most talented guys on my teams.”
But Wade showed enough talent that he had college offers in football and baseball. He chose the diamond and accepted then-head coach Mark Wasikowski’s invitation to play at Purdue University.
“As a freshman coming into a Big Ten program, I had older guys who helped get me going and taught me about work ethic,” says Wade. “He have a lot of new guys (in 2020-21). As a junior, I’m in that position this year and doing it to the best of my ability.”
The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season was his second as a right-handed pitcher for the Boilermakers.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder appeared in five games (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 6 2/3 innings, he struck out two and walked one.
As a freshman in 2019, Wade got into 15 games (two as a starter) and went 2-2 with a 5.18 ERA. In 40 innings, he struck out 27 and walked 11.
Greg Goff took over as Purdue head coach and Chris Marx became pitching coach for 2020.
“I love Coach Goff,” says Wade. “I really enjoy playing for him. He’s so energetic and positive.
“He’s a players’ coach. He will love you and get on you to make you better and then love you some more.”
Wade appreciates Marx for his knowledge and attention to detail.
“He wants everybody to succeed and is so organized in the bullpen.
“He has helped a lot of guys with mechanics and the mental game. He tells us to never be comfortable. There’s always something we can do better.”
The plan for 2020 called for Wade to pitch the whole spring then go to St. Louis in the summer for work on getting better at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab.
When the season was halted, many players stayed in town and continued to work out and stayed on their throwing programs.
But there was a question.
“What’s next?,” says Wade. “Are we ever going to play baseball again?
“Once total lockdown happened, everybody went home.”
Wade went back to Kokomo then came the chance to compete and train less than an hour away in the 12-team College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
The righty was assigned to the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles.
“It was a no-brainer to play there,” says Wade. “It was legit.
There were hitters who would expose you if you didn’t throw good pitches.
“I really enjoyed the competition.”
Wade was used as a starter on Monday or Tuesday and could then recover and ramp up to his next start either at home or — if time allowed — at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus.
In 14 2/3 innings, he posted a 2.45 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks.
Throwing over-the-top, Wade used a four-seam fastball that was clocked up to 89 mph in the spring and summer. He also used a slider and a change-up.
“The slider is like a slurve,” says Wade. “I throw it hard 12-to-6 but I get left-to-right run.
“The change-up is an ‘open circle.’ Like Trevor Bauer, I start pronating it in my glove. It’s thrown like a fastball. It’s working really good for me.”
In the past few weeks, Wade has been working on a two-seam cutter.
The Business Management major also took an online course this summer. This fall, all but one of his courses are in-person though class size is kept small to eliminate contact tracing.
In the summer of 2018, Wade went to Purdue to begin a throwing and lifting program as well as his studies.
The summer after his freshman season was spent with the Bend (Ore.) Elks of the West Coast Baseball League.
Wade has also worked with Greg Vogt of PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.
Born in Anderson, Ind., Wade was 1 when he moved with his family from Highland, Ind., where his father Mike was head boys basketball coach, to Kokomo.
Kyle played at Southside Little League then went into travel ball with the Indiana Bulls for his 10U through 15U seasons. His last head coach with that organization was Jeremy Honaker.
Wade joined the Trent Hanna-coached Cincinnati Spikes for his 16U and 17U summers.
Mike and Alison Wade have three children — Becca (25), Michaela (23) and Kyle (21).
Former Kokomo athletic director Mike Wade is now Director of Human Resources and Operations for the Kokomo School Corporation. He played baseball and basketball at Hanover (Ind.) College).
Alison Wade is a first grade teacher at Sycamore International Elementary. She played field hockey at Hanover.
Both daughters are Indiana University graduates and nurses in Indianapolis — Becca at Riley Children’s Hospital and Michaela at IU Health University Hospital.