By STEVE KRAH
Elijah Dunham signed as an undrafted minor league free agent by the New York Yankees in June 2020.
The professional baseball experience for the Evansville, Ind., did not really start until the spring of 2021.
Because of COVID-19, there was no instructional league in the Yankees organization last fall so Dunham finished up his Sports Management degree at Indiana University and trained for the 2021 season.
Dunham, who was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) at Evansville Reitz High School and a three-year baseball standout at IU, has played 20 games for the Low Class-A Southeast League’s Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons.
Through games played June 1, the lefty-swinging outfielder is hitting .275 19-of-69 with two home runs, two triples, five doubles, 19 runs batted in, 22 runs scored and a .925 OPS (.432 on-base percentage plus .493 slugging average).
The difference between college and pro ball?
“There’s no school or someone telling what to do,” says Dunham. “You play everday and you have to know how your body feels.
“I love it. I love to play this game.”
To get familiar, Dunham has been playing all three outfield positions as well as batting anywhere from fifth to ninth in the Tarpons order.
Tampa is managed by former big league infielder David Adams.
“He’s a great guy,” says Dunham of Adams. “He’s a non-nonsense type manager — no matter where you were drafted.
“He wants you to get better. He has a willingness to help every single player.”
Dunham, who turned 23 on May 29, figured he’d be playing as a pro before now. But he did not see a worldwide pandemic coming nor the restructuring of Minor League Baseball.
He was was selected in the 40th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but did not sign and went back to Indiana.
“I was very confident in myself in college,” says Dunham. “It was a misfortunate event that happened.”
Dunham played three seasons for the Hoosiers (2018-20). In 94 games (75 starts), the 6-foot, 213-pounder hit .312 (88-of-282) with nine homers, 25 doubles, 48 RBIs, 67 runs and a .925 OPS (.429 on-base percentage plus .496 slugging average). The left-handed thrower had a season-high three assists from the outfield in a March 8, 2020 game against San Diego.
As a Hoosier, Dunham answered to two head coaches — Chris Lemonis as a freshman and Jeff Mercer as a sophomore and junior.
“(Lemonis) is really hard on freshmen, but he’s a good dude,” says Dunham. “He’s a geat recruiter and a great baseball coach. He’s going to do well at Mississippi State.”
Dunham really connected with Mercer, who got him to focus on the variables to produce an outcome and only concern himself with the things he can control.
“I bonded with Merc,” says Dunham. “He’s like me — a blue collar baseball guy. He helped me fall in love with the process of getting better. He showed me what a successful mindset really is.
“I really appreciate him and what he did for me.”
Dunham and Mercer still regularly trade text messages.
The 2017 Reitz graduate played football for coach Andy Hape, basketball for Michael Adams and baseball for Todd DeWeese (who was assisted by Joe Paulin). Dunham was a part of two sectional championship teams in football and basketball and one in baseball.
As gridders, the Dunham boys — Elijah and Isaiah — lined up as safeties on defense and wideouts on offense. The Panthers went 9-2 in 2015 and 11-2 in 2016 — Elijah’s junior and senior seasons. Those seasons ended with a field goal and a “Hail Mary” pass.
Isaiah Dunham went on to play one football season at Yale University.
DeWeese took over the Reitz baseball program during Dunham’s freshman year.
“He was an easy-going coach,” says Dunham. “He let us play the game.
“What I remember is the times with the boys.”
Born and raised in Evansville, Elijah played from age 6-12 at what is now known as Golfmoor Baseball Association, where father Paul Dunham was league president.
After that, Elijah played travel ball for Louisville-based Ironmen Baseball.
Paul and Angie Dunham have four children — Elijah, Isaiah, Moriah and Josiah.
Moriah Dunham graduated from Evansville Christian and is headed to Taylor University to study and play soccer.
Josiah Dunham sparked Evansville Christian to an Indiana Christian School Athletic Association state championship in 2020-21.