BY STEVE KRAH
Speed is Tyler Finke’s calling card on the baseball field.
He shows it while roaming center field and swiping bases at a record pace for Southeastern Louisiana University and he did it while growing up in Columbus, Ind., and shining for the Columbus North High School Bull Dogs.
A fifth-year SLU senior, Finke has 41 putouts in as many chances. The righty swinger is hitting a team-leading .364 with one home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 23 runs scored — mostly from the 2-hole — through 14 games.
“I’m able to track down balls and impact the game on the defensive side and limiting balls that drop out there,” says Finke. “I’ve got (lead-off man Rhett Rosevear) in front of me and we can get guys on base and score some runs.”
At 15-of-16 in stolen bases for 2023, Finke is 71-of-80 for his career and had tied the school record.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pounder pilfered nine bases in 16 games in 2020 (a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic), 19 in 46 games in 2021 and 28 in 58 games in 2022. He hit .396 and amassed 38 stolen bases in 41 attempts for Snead State Community College in Boaz, Ala., in 2019 after hitting .415 and setting career and single-season stolen base marks at Columbus North with 108 and 48.
“Speed’s been my biggest strength as an athlete,” says Finke. “I’ve developed it over the years, but I’ve always been the fastest kid on the team.”
As a youngster, Finke improved his speed through plyometrics, body awareness and proper running form.
“I always ran the right way and always had the speed to back it up,” says Finke. “We still do a little work with our strength coach (Kyle Vagher). He’s done a great job improving our speed and agility in the off-season.
“It’s been mostly about adding strength.”
Finke, who turns 24 in April, gained an extra year of eligibility because of COVID.
He completed a Sport Management degree last semester. This spring marks his fourth playing for Matt Riser at SLU in Hammond, La.
“Skip is one of the old-school, hard-nosed dudes,” says Finke. “He expects a lot from you. He expects you to play hard every single time. That’s what we love about him.
“We know he’s going to get the best out of his team every performance.”
He credits his coach for making him even more of a weapon on the bases.
“Having speed helps,” says Finke. “But Riser has given me some extra tools and tricks of the trade that help maximize my speed.”
It’s things like reading the pitcher and sinking into his legs right before the pitch to get his best jump.
“Getting that extra foot ahead of the baseball has really helped me,” says Finke. “Our whole team can run pretty much. We take pride in that. At any point we can take a base.”
Casey Underwood was Finke’s head coach at Snead State.
“His first year as coach was my year there,” says Finke. “The stuff he’s built around that program is absolutely incredible.
“I can’t say anything but nice things about what he’s done and what he means to me as a coach.”
Finke has never been a fan of the cold and saw himself playing college ball in the south.
While in high school playing travel ball for Demand Command, he got to play against junior college teams in the fall. One of those was Snead State.
Older brother Evan Finke (Columbus North Class of 2015) played for the Parsons and Tyler followed him. Evan went on to Purdue Northwest and is now an engineer in Columbus.
Little sister Carley Finke (Columbus North Class of 2020) is a former volleyball defensive specialist and current nursing student at Indiana University Purdue University-Columbus. Evan, Tyler and Carley are the offspring of Rodney and Beth Finke.
A 2018 graduate of Columbus North, Tyler Finke played for then-Bull Dogs head coach Ben McDaniel.
“He got us prepared to play the college game,” says Finke. “We were a high school program, but we had a lot of talent.”