By STEVE KRAH
The middle of the Purdue Fort Wayne baseball infield has formed a big 1-2 punch at the top of the Mastodons batting order.
Senior Jack Lang, a 2017 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., is PFW’s primary shortstop and leadoff hitter. Batting second and playing second base is junior and Waterford (Wis.) Union High School product Aaron Chapman.
In 2021, the pair flipped their offensive roles from 2020 when Chapman was lead-off on Mastodons head coach Doug Schreiber’s lineup card.
Heading into a four-game Horizon League series at Wright State April 9-11, the righty-swinging Lang is hitting .345 (29-of-84) with one triple, three doubles, 12 runs batted in, 13 runs scored and a .409 on-base percentage. He is 11-of-14 in stolen bases.
After leading the Summit League in hitting during the COVID-19 pandemic-shorted 2020 season at .382, Chapman is hitting .256 with two homers, one triple, two doubles, 15 RBIs, 13 runs, a .385 OBP and is 5-of-5 in stolen bases. Coming off a hand injury, Chapman went 8-of-18 last weekend against Northern Kentucky.
Purdue Fort Wayne hit .299 as a team in 2020, ranking them 30th in the country. The ’21 Dons (9-14 overall, 6-10 in the Horizon League) are at .256.
“The numbers don’t reflect it, but we’re starting to make a little push with our offensive game,” says Lang. “Our pitching has improved phenomenally since last year.”
Lang, who hit .205 in 2018 and .206 in 2019 then .290 in 2020, credits Greg Vogt-led PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and the help of hitting instructor Quentin Brown.
“He helped me turn my swing around,” says Lang of Brown, who played for the school when it was known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW).
The College Summer League at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles featured Lang in 2020.
Lang, who was born in Carmel, Ind., and grew up in Fishers, was primarily a middle infielder in travel ball (with the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Raiders, Indiana Mustangs and Indiana Havoc) and high school. Two OLMC teammates — Carmel High grads Max Habegger (Lipscomb University) and Cameron Pferrer (University of Missouri) — are now pitching at the NCAA D-I level. Several Indiana Havoc mates are also playing college baseball.
With a little time in center field as a sophomore, Lang was mainly second baseman early in his college days with Fishers graduate Brandon Yoho starting at short through 2019.
The past two springs, Lang has been PFW’s regular shortstop while getting guidance from Schreiber, who was head coach at Purdue University for 18 years before spending two seasons at McCutcheon High School — both in West Lafayette, Ind. — and taking over in Purdue in the fall of 2019.
“He has done a phenomenal job of turning this program around into something successful,” says Lang of Schreiber. “He has Old School method of how infielders are supposed to train.
“He tries to bring out the best player in you.”
Lang knew that Schreiber was a fiery competitor through friends who were recruited by Schreiber at Purdue.
Playing for passionate coaches growing up — including former HSE head coach and current Indiana University-Kokomo volunteer Scott Henson — Lang is drawn to that style.
“He has a fiery edge,” says Lang, a three-year varsity player for the Royals. “He was not afraid to get on somebody, but it was all out of love.
“It was the edge to help me succeed in the best way possible.”
Lang also got to be coached at Hamilton Southeastern by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Seitz (who led the Royals program for 25 years and came back to help after his retirement) and his son Kory Seitz and stays in-touch with both of them.
“The HSE program is what it is today because of the Seitz family,” says Lang.
While it came two years after his graduation, Lang was a Victory Field in Indianapolis when HSE won the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A state championship.
“We have a great tradition that seniors get to take their home white jerseys (after their senior season),” says Lang, who was donning his old No. 5 and rooting with three former teammates when the Royals edged Columbus East 3-2. “We were probably the loudest in the stadium.”
Current head coach Jeremy Sassanella, who had led the program at Brebeuf Jesuit, has connected with HSE alumni and that includes Lang.
The former Royals middle infielder has also developed a bond with Matt Cherry, who coached rival Fishers to the 4A state crown in 2018.
There was a transition going on when Lang entered college with Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne going by Fort Wayne for a time and then Purdue Fort Wayne.
The Mastodons head baseball coach his first two years was Bobby Pierce.
“Bobby was a great guy,” says Lang. “He came to a lot of my travel ball games and I never knew why. He loved my hustle.
“He saw the good attitude in me and that I had a potential to be a good player for his program.”
At PFW, Lang has gotten to play with many players he played with or against as a younger athlete. He was roommates with HSE graduate Grant Johnston and Fishers alum Cameron Boyd.
Lang, 22, is on pace to graduate in May as a Business Management major with a Professional Sales Certificate.
“I eventually want to go into sales,” says Lang. “But I want to play as long as I can.”
Granted another year of eligibility because of COVID-19, Lang plans to return for 2021-22 while being work on his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in the fall.
Jack is the oldest of Jeff and Dawn Long’s three children. Nicole Lang (20) plays softball and studies engineering at Rose-Hulman Institutute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind. Christian Lang (9) is a baseball-playing third grader.
“Family dad” Doug Pope — father of Justin Pope — has thrown many hours of batting practice to Jack Lang over the years.