By STEVE KRAH
Tanner Craig has provided a productive bat for the University of Evansville baseball team since the 2018 season.
The righty swinger sports a batting average of .294 (128-of-435) with 18 home runs, 28 doubles, 76 runs batted in, 60 runs scored and an .859 OPS (.372 on-base percentage plus 487 slugging average) in 116 games.
In 2021, the 6-foot, 220-pound first baseman played in 54 contests (all starts) and hit .299 (60-of-201) with 12 homers, 14 doubles, 47 RBIs, 31 runs and a .929 OPS (.382/.547).
Thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility when the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season — one in which he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week and Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week after slugging four homers in a season-openojvng series at Tennessee Tech — Craig is back for a fifth season with the Purple Aces in 2022.
What title best fits Craig as an offensive player?
“I would say I’m a power hitter,” says Craig, 22. “It’s role I’ve played at Evansville and other teams I’ve been on.”
Aces head coach Wes Carroll tabbed Craig as his regular No. 3 hole hitter in 2021.
“I just try to hit the ball hard every time,” says Craig. “I look for a pitch in the part of the (strike) zone I know I can hit it well and swing hard.”
While Craig has seen some exit velocity data, it’s not how he and other UE players often gauge their swings.
“With turf we can get on the field anytime we want,” says Craig of German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium. “Ball flight — that tells you a lot about your swing.
“We played one game on (home) turf in the COVID year (then 34 in 2021). We’re very lucky to have it. That’s for sure.”
Craig appreciates Carroll for the way he tailors his approach to each player.
“He really cares for all of us as individuals,” says Craig. “He takes the time to learn how to coach us individually. He knows the best way to get to people.”
Carroll can be firmer with Craig because he knows he can hand it. Another player may need to be cajoled.”
Fall practice began Aug. 30, about a week after the first day of class. Individual work is about to wrap up. That will be followed by team practices and scrimmages. While there has been nothing formal, players have been keeping track of which color teams wins most.
The Aces are also slated to play exhibition games Oct, 9 against Western Kentucky University and Oct. 23 against Wabash Valley College — both at Evansville.
Last spring, Craig earned an Accounting degree and is now working toward a Masters of Leadership. He expects to finish the 18-month course in December 2022.
This summer, Craig played for the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. In 26 games, he hit .386 (34-of-88) with 10 homers, seven doubles, 36 RBIs and 19 runs for a team managed by Michael Keeran. The team went a league-best 41-18 during the regular season and lost to the Cape Catfish in the best-of-three championship series.
“It was a great experience,” says Craig. “It’s a beautiful stadium (the new-look Loeb Stadium).
“It was really fun, my time up there.”
Craig was born in Florence, Ky., and grew up in Scottsburg, Ind., where he played Coach Pitch at what is now Scott County Youth League. He played travel ball for the Smithville (Ind.) Gators, Mark Peters-coached Ironmen (13U to 17U) and Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks (18U).
He began attending schools in Austin, Ind., in sixth grade and graduate from Austin High School in 2017. Craig was a shortstop, third baseman and pitcher for Eagles coach Matt Bayes.
“He’s just a good coach,” says Craig of Bayes. “He’s really good at teaching a lot of aspects of the game.”
One of Craig’s teammates was right-handed pitcher Drew Buhr (Austin Class of 2019), who went to Saint Louis University then transferred to Bellarmine University.
Tanner, who turns 23 in December, is the youngest of Samtec production supervisor Todd and Morgan Foods senior buyer Jennifer Craig.
“They’ve been a huge support for me since I’ve started,” says Tanner of his parents. “They’ve always found ways to get me whatever I need. I can count on one hand the number of games my dad has missed in my college career.
“It’s always nice to see a familiar face in the stands.”
Morgan Dillard, Tanner’s older sister lives in Indianapolis and is in management with CVS Health. She is married with a daughter.
Quintin Craig, Tanner’s older brother, is a project manager of Crown Castle and lives in Louisville with his wife and daughter.
Peyton Craig, Tanner’s younger brother, is a Scottsburg freshman involved in Future Farmers of America.