BY STEVE KRAH
Nolan Tucker enjoyed a breakout collegiate baseball season at the plate in 2022.
The lefty-swinging Valparaiso (Ind.) University second baseman hit a team-best .365 (46-of-126) with one home run, one triple, 14 doubles 17 runs batted in and 21 runs scored for the NCAA Division I Beacons.
Tucker pinch hit for head coach Brian Schmack’s club in a March 15 game at Notre Dame became an everyday starter March 18 at Murray State. He was at the top of the batting order the last few games of the season.
He went 4-of-5 in the first game of a March 25 doubleheader vs. St. Bonaventure, 4-of-5 April 30 at Southern Illinois April 30, 4-of-4 May 20 at Evansville and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference first team. He was the first Valpo player since 2018 and second since the school joined the MVC to do that.
“This was years in the making,” says Tucker, 21. “I finally had a chance to showcase it.”
Prior to this spring, Tucker had only played in 20 college games. He made 16 appearances in 2020 before that season was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also the president of his dormitory — Brandt Hall.
After playing four games in 2021, he suffered a season-ending injury. He did earn Valparaiso University Presidential Academic Honors and the MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and was on the MVC Honor Roll.
While he rehabilitated, Tucker took a deep dive into what he could do to boost his batting.
“I wanted to figure this hitting thing out and take it to next level,” says Tucker. “I was looking at videos and comparing myself to big leaguers.”
Tucker saw hitting coach Trey Hannam on social media, liked his profile and reached out to him and was soon making the 180-mile trek from Cedar Lake, Ind., to work with him in Milan, Ill.
Current Valpo assistants Kory Winter and Mitchell Boe and former assistant Casey Fletcher also played a part in Tucker’s transformation.
A 2019 graduate of Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, where he played for Wildcats head coach Ryan Bridges, Tucker was ranked among Indiana’s best shortstops and was four-year letterwinner and three-time all-conference selection.
With strong shortstops on the squad (including Benton Central High School graduate Alex Thurston), Tucker made the switch to second base at Valpo to get on the field and has come to love the position.
Tucker began wrestling early in elementary school. In high school, his head coaches were Mike Drosias as a freshman and Joshua Rowinski. There were to conference titles and a sectional championship.
He was in the 132-pound class as a sophomore in 2016-17 when he went 35-5 and qualified for the semistate then decided to focus on baseball and getting bigger and stronger and did not wrestle as a junior or senior.
“It’s a tough sport,” says Tucker of wrestling. “It’s physically and mentally demanding.
“The lessons I’ve learned from that sport I’ll carry with me forever.”
Tucker was born in Munster, Ind., and grew up in Cedar Lake. He played town ball and then went into travel baseball. He played for the St. John All-Stars, Playmakers, Chiefs, Top Tier, National Pitching Association and then the Dave Sutkowski-coached Morris Chiefs for his 17U summer.
“He’s made huge impact on me,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “He’s taught me a lot about the game, but more about life like being punctual, responsible and a leader.
“He was always there to reassure you and make you confident.
“It’s about the man you become.”
Tucker is scheduled to join the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators — managed by Chris Willsey — next Tuesday, May 7. He did not play in 2021 while rehabbing. He was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics of gthe College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020. He also got to play for the Jorge Hernandez-managed Independence in the College Summer Baseball Invitational in Bryan/College Station, Texas, where he met fellow Region native and CSBI Unity manager LaTroy Hawkins.
Nolan had never met the 21-year major leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer but got connected through cousin and former Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and Morris Chiefs coach Jim Tucker.
In 2019, Nolan Tucker played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s St. Clair Green Giants in Windsor, Ont.
Tucker is a Business Management major. He is one year away from getting his undergraduate degree and has three more years of playing eligibility.
“I’ll definitely go two more,” says Tucker. “I’m on the bubble about the third year.”
Nolan is the oldest of Keith and Julie Tucker’s two children. Keith Tucker works for Team Industrial Services and Julie for Liveops. Daughter Kylin (18) is a 2022 Hanover Central graduate bound for Ball State University.