By STEVE KRAH
Roman Kuntz is a different athlete since he left the high school ranks two years ago.
As a Class 3A baseball first-team all-state outfielder in the New Prairie High School Class of 2019, Kuntz carried about 165 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
In his second and final season as a junior college in 2021 the outfielder/first baseman tips the scales at around 220 and is putting the extra muscle to use.
He is sophomore lefty swinger for the Lake Michigan College (Benton Harbor, Mich.) Red Hawks — members of National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12.
Through his first 23 games of 2021 Kuntz is hitting .493 (36-of-73) with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in and 33 runs scored. His OPS is 1.027 (.480 on-base percentage plus .547 slugging average).
On Saturday, Kuntz went 4-of-4 with five RBIs and three runs. Two of his hits against Ivy Tech Northeast cleared the fence at Shoaff Park in Fort Wayne, Ind.
During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Kuntz hit .310 (9-of-29) with one homer, nine RBIs, 10 runs and a 1.098 OPS (.512 on-base percentage plus .586 slugging average) in 10 games.
Kuntz was supposed to play for the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenberg (Ky.) Stallions, but the OVL did not play and he would up in the Northwoods League with the Steve Cutter-managed Great Lakes Resorters in Traverse City, Mich.
While his numbers weren’t spectacular, Kuntz credits that experience for playing a major part in his offensive jump in his second season at Lake Michigan College.
“I was seeing some of the top arms in the country,” says Kuntz, who hit .222 (18-of-81) with three homers, 13 RBIs, 15 runs and .730 OPS (.323 on-base percentage plus .407 slugging average) in 25 games. “It’s that and my approach at the plate.”
LMC head coach Zak Wasserman asks his players to “compete all the time.”
“Focus on this pitch right now and just stay locked in,” says Kuntz of Wasserman’s directive. “We can’t focus on a pitch or a swing we haven’t taken yet.
“Just focus on the moment.”
Kuntz and his teammates like to called themselves “juco bandits.”
“It’s just a joke we all have,” says Kuntz. “We don’t always have the best of everything and play on the best fields. You have to put up with what you’re given and just embrace it.
“It akes it that much sweeter when you get to a four-year school.
“The main reason I wanted to go juco with guidance from my coaches was two more years to develop academically and athletically.”
Kuntz is due to earn an Associate of Arts degree at LMC before continuing his athletic and academic career at NCAA Division I Morehead (Ky.) State University for 2021-22. Former Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki is the head coach of the Ohio Valley Conference-member Eagles.
“There’s exciting path ahead of me,” says Kuntz. “I can’t wait to get started on the next journey.”
What will Kuntz study at Morehead State?
Psychology with an eye on the clinical side.
“I just care for people,” says Kuntz. “Everyone can use someone who can understand and listen to them.”
Roman was born in South Bend, Ind., as the second of Brett and Janel Kuntz’s three children. Brother Addison Clark — yes, the family roots for the Chicago Cubs — is older by two years and was a New Prairie baseball teammate.
Sister Helaina is a sophomore and No. 2 singles player on the NPHS girls tennis team.
Roman played baseball almost as soon as he could walk and hockey at age 5.
He was in the New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle, Ind., and played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers then the Tony Cruz-managed South Bend American Legion Post 151 the summer before college.
A varsity player from sophomore through senior year at New Prairie, Kuntz learned from Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger.
“He’s all about the mental side of the game,” says Kuntz of Schellinger. “That’s so important with baseball.”
Schellinger had his players — all of them and not just captains or seniors — come to his classroom once a week for a leadership meeting.
“Everybody had the leadership responsibility,” says Kuntz. “It takes everybody to be a leader.”
Kuntz skated for the South Bend Irish Rovers travel team and was with the South Bend Riley Wildcats Hockey Club his last three years of high school. Moving from defense to left wing as a senior in 2019, he helped the Wildcats to a Class 2A Indiana state championship.
But first there’s work to do as a “juco bandit.”