The Buckeyes freshmen hitting duo from last spring hasn’t missed a beat since the end of the Big Ten season, taking the summer Virginia Valley League in stride.
It was late Monday morning when sophomore-to-be Conner Pohl returned my call from the night before. Sunday had been an off day for the Front Royal Cardinals of the Valley Baseball Collegiate League and he had spent the day Virginia-style, just relaxin’, doing a little fishin’ in the Shenandoah River..
Dominic Canzone, his Ohio State teammate, likewise had taken some time away from baseball, now 20 games deep into the VBCL schedule.
Canzone is leading the team in hitting with a .369 average (24-65), a pair of home runs and 11 runs batted in.
Pohl, while not hitting at that pace, is having a good summer, nonetheless, with a .280 average (21-75) with four doubles and 9 RBIs.
So, as the German army could never claim in the latter days of the great war…there IS good news for the Ohio State baseball coaches and fans from the Eastern front.
“It’s going well,” a tired-sounding Pohl said from his host home in Front Royal, Virginia. “I really like it here. The host family is great. It’s a part of the country I’ve never seen, so that’s fun. And I’m playing with guys from all over the country – new teammates. I’m really enjoying the experience.”
And, through the first month of the Valley Baseball League season, Arcanum, Ohio’s Pohl has been enlightened by seeing baseball from a new, a different, and unfamiliar perspective. There’s nothing familiar about the Valley League geography…but the fastballs, curves, and sliders, he’s found, all look the same.
“The pitching here has been pretty good, maybe not overall like what you see in the Big Ten, but pretty close.”
Which has only heightened the confidence he found in the second half of the Big Ten season when the Buckeye freshman accumulated most of his seasonal .325 average and joined fellow frosh Dom Canzone (.343) as the team’s two leading hitters.
“I never questioned my ability to hit Big Ten pitching,” said Pohl by cell phone. “It’s just that the adjustments I made during the season with (Greg) Beals and (Matt) Angle really started to kick in late in the year. They told me my hands were quick enough, just to make my swing shorter, more compact, and try to drive the ball out over the infield. I just went with the pitch. That’s pretty much what I’m doing here.”
That, and getting on-the-job training at third base, a position he has been told to learn to like as he comes back for fall baseball and prepares for the 2018 season.
“I’ve played every game at third, pretty much…maybe one day off,” says Pohl. “Actually, when I was younger I played a lot of shortstop and third base because of my arm (strength), so I’m very familiar with playing it. I like third base because you either get to the ball or you don’t. It’s quick and requires good reflexes. Once I get that down, with the flexibility and movement, I’m not worried.”
This all bodes well, of course, for the defending Big Ten champs that went 22-34 and finished out of the running for a Big Ten Tournament bid last spring. Talented throughout the roster, injuries, youth and inexperience simply caught up with them against the likes of senior-laden lineups at places like Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota.
In the meantime, this summer those same faces are in places like Chillicothe, Springfield, and Front Royal, Virginia, adjusting their psyches while they retune their batting stroke.
“It’s really nice here,” Conner reaffirmed. “Went out yesterday and caught a few rock bass in the river, and tonight we have a game with New Market.”
Which is not the same as Michigan State or Indiana, but the stakes are different, anyway. Conner Pohl and Dominic Canzone are just staying sharp in the backwoods of Ol’ Virginny, in the shadows of the Blue Ridge, where Stonewall and Robert E. Lee used to play. With history all around, they’re reassuring themselves that last spring was no fluke – not that they ever doubted.
The good news from the Eastern front is…they’re preparing to make some history of their own!