BY STEVE KRAH
Nolan Metcalf’s 2020 summer plans had him playing baseball in the Northwoods League with the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was reconfigured and the two-year starting first baseman at the University of Kansas is in Traverse City, Mich., as part of a three-team regional pod.
Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has been assigned to the new Northern Michigan Dune Bears. That team plays games against established Traverse City Pit Spitters and new Great Lakes Resorters at at Turkey Creek Stadium. Players are being housed in cabins at Interlochen Center for the Arts, located between Duck, Geneva and Long lakes and close to Lake Michigan.
“We play every two days,” says Metcalf, who was the designated hitter during a season-opening victory Thursday, July 2 against the Pit Spitters. Former Jackrabbits hitting coach Alex O’Donnell, who played at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and is an assistant at Mercyhurst-North East was made a winner in his managing debut. “I’ve been to the beach a couple of times.”
Before the Kansas season was halted in March, Metcalf appeared in 15 games with 12 starts at first base and hit .244 (10-of-41 with two home runs, two doubles, six walks and 10 runs batted in. He belted his homers against Charleston Southern Feb. 22 and Indiana State March 7.
The Jayhawks, with Ritch Price as head coach and his son Ritchie Price as hitting/infield coach, recruiting coordinator and third base coach, were returning from a series March 10-11 at the University of Iowa when they learned that the Ivy League had canceled its season.
“We practiced the next day and the coaches told us it was not looking good,” says Metcalf.
Soon after that, the season was canceled and campus was closed. Metcalf finished his spring semester classes via computer back in Granger, Ind.
“I was trying to learn accounting online,” says Metcalf, who is working toward a major in Sport Management with a minor in Business. “I got it done.”
The son of Dave and Leslie Metcalf and brother of Lexie Metcalf quarantined for about a month then began going to the Harris Township fields for daily batting practice with Penn classmate Niko Kavadas, who completed his third season at Notre Dame in 2020.
Metcalf also resumed lessons with Mike Marks at his Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and began mowing lawns with the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation.
“I wasn’t super-confident about the summer (baseball season),” says Metcalf, who was told June 15 to report to Traverse City, which is about 250 miles due north of Granger. “Now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.”
Metcalf expects to split his time with the Dune Bears between DH, first base and catcher.
Last summer he played for the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats of the MINK (Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas) Collegiate League. He was named to the all-star team and finished second in the home run derby at St. Joseph, Mo., even though he belted 32 total homers in three rounds.
At Kansas in 2019, Metcalf appeared in 44 games (27 starts) and hit .256 (30-of-117) with four homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs.
The summer of 2018 had him in the Expedition League with the Western Nebraska Pioneers.
As a Jayhawk freshman, Metcalf got into 14 games (one as a starter) and hit .077 (1-for-14) with one RBI.
Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn, Metcalf was a career .379 hitter while earning all-state and District Player of the Year recognition and being named to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior.
Metcalf was on the High Honor Roll four times. The Kingsmen won four Northern Indiana Conference and IHSAA sectional titles, three regionals, two semistates and a Class 4A state championship (he scored two runs in a 3-2 win against Terre Haute North Vigo in 2015). The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder also played football at Penn.
What’s the difference between high school and college baseball?
“It’s the faster pace,” says Metcalf. “It’s how good every single player is. You have to prepare for every single game like it’s a big game — even the mid-week ones.
“It’s fun, but hard work.”
Metcalf, a righty swinger, sees his power and his ability to hit to all fields as his strengths as a hitter.
“Hitting veto — guys that throw in the low to mid-90’s — means having quick hands,” says Metcalf. “You need to have a short, steady stroke. (The pitcher) will provide the power.”
From his 7U to 14U summer, Metcalf played travel baseball for the Granger Cubs. Teammates included Kavadas, Trevor Waite, Matt Kominkiewicz and Tony Carmola.
He played for Penn’s summer team after his first two high school campaigns then one summer each with the Eric Osborn-coached Indiana Nitro (17U) and Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U). Prior to his senior year, he played for the Kevin Christman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.