Monday, December 18, 2017 Medina 35°
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Gazette MVP: Medina's Peterson became a star by launching moon shots

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    Medina's Trace Peterson is the 2017 Gazette baseball MVP.

    PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RON SCHWANE

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A baseball player in the mold of Medina senior Trace Peterson comes along with the frequency of Halley’s Comet. That’s not solely because Peterson was the high school version of Mike Piazza, but because one of his off-the-field hobbies doesn’t fit the profile.

When he’s not crushing baseballs into the stratosphere, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound catcher is at peace at Kenneth Dukes Stadium with teammates John Curtis, John Kalucis and Ryan Bowers, taking turns pressing an Orion-brand telescope against their eyes and letting imaginations run wild.

Peterson says he’s no expert in astronomy, but checking out the moon, Jupiter and the Big Dipper and hunting for shooting stars gets his blood pumping nearly as much as a late-inning at-bat in a close game.

“Usually people want to come and join us when we want to go out there,” Peterson said with his trademark grin.

The Gazette MVP once thought he’d be an engineer and work for NASA, but Lake Erie’s 80 percent athletic scholarship was too good to pass up — the Painesville school doesn’t offer engineering — so Peterson will study business administration while looking to bomb more home runs.

Recent history gives Peterson favorable odds to do so, especially after what he did in leading the Bees to the Division I regional championship game for the first time.

For a young man who enjoys looking at the moon, each of his five home runs felt like it was going to land there. The one to left field in a legendary 14-inning regional semifinal victory over Avon would have cleared the fences at all 30 Major League ballparks.

“He’ll just smile and giggle because he’s humble,” coach Nick Kaplack said. “He’s a good kid. He really is. That’s why I think Trace is going to play on TV (as a Major Leaguer). I really do. He has the right attitude where he’s going to keep working and get better.”

With an elite command of the strike zone, Peterson produced the second-best season in Medina County since pitcher-friendly BBCOR bats were introduced in 2012. The only player better was Highland’s Luke Raley (2013), who entered Wednesday night hitting .302 in the minor leagues.

Peterson finished with a .474 batting average, .587 on-base percentage, .816 slugging percentage and 1.403 OPS. The right-hander had seven doubles, two triples, five home runs, 41 RBIs, 25 runs and a brilliant 21 walks to four strikeouts, giving him only nine K’s in 194 career plate appearances.

The cleanup hitter for arguably the greatest offense in school history (6.9 rpg) earned respect thanks to a new approach. Though the easygoing Peterson didn’t buy the suggestion from assistant coach and 2008 Gazette MVP Kyle Von Duyke at first, the results eventually spoke for themselves.

“(Von Duyke) told me to go up there and tell yourself — not to sound cocky — that you could hit any pitch at any position and you were better than anyone else on the field,” Peterson said with zero arrogance. “I just expected to go get a hit every time and hoped it would work out. It did.

“(Von Duyke) told me one day at practice, and I thought it was hilarious until a couple games I struggled hitting-wise. He told me again — tell yourself you’re the best on the field — and I changed my train of thought and it really helped out.”

Hitting for power didn’t necessarily always come easy for Peterson, who entered high school standing 5-7 and weighing only 160 pounds — “I had a late growth spurt,” he quipped — but the weight room and batting cage helped him develop strength to complement natural hand-eye coordination. Kaplack raved about Peterson’s work ethic, though Peterson himself naturally downplayed it.

All aspects helped Peterson star behind the plate and at it, but the Bees had a rocky regular season in which they forfeited three games and finished a disappointing fourth in the regular-season Greater Cleveland Conference standings.

But Peterson and Kaplack never lost hope, and Medina won 9-of-10 games to become GCC Tournament runner-up and Barberton District champion. Then came the amazing 22-hour regional weekend in which Peterson caught all 355 pitches and was intentionally walked twice.

The season ended with a 3-2 loss to eventual state runner-up Strongsville, but Peterson has no regrets.

“Kaplack really drove it in our heads that everything was going to work out in the end,” he said. “As a team, we went through a lot with suspensions and losing streaks, but each game we took it one game at a time. Toward the end of the season, we came together more and fixed all our errors. It worked out well.”

Peterson also learned a valuable lesson that he’ll take to Lake Erie.

“Work hard,” Peterson said, “because you never know who’s watching.”

An attitude like that is how a star is born.

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

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