When McHenry’s players arrived at Petersen Park for a recent baseball game, Warriors coach Brian Rockweiler announced they would forgo batting practice and just work on fielding.
Rockweiler figured they had taken enough swings inside with so many bad-weather days that extra defensive work would be more beneficial.
One Warrior, in particular, was thrilled. Shortstop Owen Patzin always prefers grabbing his Wilson A-2000 DP15 11 1/4-inch glove to picking up his DeMarini Voodoo bat. Except, it was Patzin’s turn to pitch.
“Owen’s eyes lit up,” Rockweiler said. “He wanted to take ground balls, but he was pitching, and I said, ‘You’re not taking any ground balls today.’ He was so upset. When he comes to practice, he wants ground balls.”
Patzin has been that way since he was a little kid, either bouncing a ball while doing homework or tossing them off the walls or stairs, which prompted scoldings.
It paid off, however. Patzin was called up to the varsity late in his freshman season and has been a fixture at shortstop since. Rockweiler knows the Warriors (10-2, 4-0 Fox Valley Conference) have been spoiled with some of the softest hands and one of the best arms in the area in the middle of their defense for three-plus seasons.
“He’s so smooth. It comes natural for him,” Rockweiler said. “We brought him up the second-to-last week of the season (as a freshman). He was on the sophomore team. We were struggling in the middle infield, so we put him at shortstop and he did really good.”
As a varsity player, Patzin has committed 30 errors at one of the most demanding positions. His hitting has improved (he is at .233 this season) and he is making an impact on the mound this spring (2-0, 15 1/3 innings, 20 strikeouts, three walks and an 0.91 ERA).
And although Patzin likes being in control of the game with occasional pitching starts, his heart is still at shortstop.
“When I was playing baseball and got to choose hit or field, I’d always choose field,” Patzin said. “It was what I wanted to do. When I was little, that’s what I loved.”
McHenry third baseman Nick Finley has played next to Patzin for three varsity seasons and enjoys when ground balls are hit in Patzin’s direction.
“Everybody feels confident the play’s going to be made,” Finley said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in the hole, right at him. He’s so consistent with everything he does in the field. We all look up to him in the field. We all try to take little notes from him.”
In Thursday’s game against Prairie Ridge, the Wolves threatened to score another run and tighten the game with a runner at third base and a ball hit toward the shortstop hole. Patzin grabbed the ball and fired a strike to first baseman Dylan Honkala at first to nip Braden Burza on a bang-bang play.
Patzin credits coaches from his youth such as Giacomo Listi (with the McHenry Cobras and Elite Baseball), Bill Sinacore (with Elite) and Mick Matsie (Pro Player Canes) with helping him develop as a shortstop. He said Sinacore really helped him with the fundamentals and mechanics, although Patzin’s desire played an important part.
“Every time we’re inside at Pro Player, he’s always asking Rock or Badge (assistant coach Zach Badgley) to hit him ground balls,” Finley said. “Practice will be over, and he’ll ask the coaches to stay after and hit ground balls to him.”
It shows in Patzin’s game.
“It’s just a lot of reps,” said Patzin, who will play with Finley and Honkala at McHenry County College next year. “The best thing I like are real ground balls, on the field or on turf off a fungo (bat). Just reps and reps. If it were up to me, I’d take a thousand (a day), but there’s a lot of other things you have to do. Reps and confidence. Some players may get in their head, and they’re not confident.”
The massive repetitions instill and maintain confidence for Patzin.
“He’s so confident in himself making any play,” Finley said. “He doesn’t lack any confidence at all. He always feels so confident no matter where it’s hit.”