Ninja on the diamond

  • Mon May 3rd, 2010 5:19pm
  • Sports

By Mike Cane Herald Writer

Lots of baseball fans know about “Angels in the Outfield,” but how about a ninja in the infield?

It’s no joke: The top-ranked Lake Stevens High School baseball team has a longtime martial arts master in its lineup. Sophomore Dylan LaVelle, a 16-year-old all-league infielder/pitcher, has had a black belt in karate since he was 9.

It might seem like an unusual combination, yet the crossover of skills from martial arts to the diamond has been extremely beneficial for LaVelle.

“We call him the Ninja,” said Lake Stevens center fielder Brandon Hoelzel.

“He’s something special. I’ve never seen a baseball player that can sit back on a pitch and drive it as good as he can,” added Hoelzel, a senior.

Through last week, LaVelle was batting .533 with 35 runs batted in, eight doubles and eight home runs. When he hasn’t played shortstop, he’s been a dominant pitcher. His record on the mound is 6-0 with a 1.46 earned-run average and 51 strikeouts in 38 innings.

LaVelle is one of many players who have been outstanding this spring for Lake Stevens, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A in the current Washington Baseball Poll. Going into this week, the Vikings were 17-1. They will play a first-round District 1 tournament game on Saturday.

LaVelle got into karate at age 4, encouraged by his mom and dad who wanted their hyper little boy to put his energy into something constructive.

“My parents, they wanted me to really focus on being a calm kid. Apparently I was a little rambunctious,” said LaVelle.

In addition to the physical benefits, karate boosted LaVelle’s confidence and mental toughness — skills that clearly translate well to the sophomore’s favorite sport.

“It definitely helped me with baseball,” he said, “because sometimes you get into the game (and it’s stressful). But I’m just pretty calm, I guess. I just take it in and flush it out.”

A year ago as a freshman, LaVelle immediately stood out as a sturdy, capable player.

“You just never would have known he was a freshman by the way he acted and the way he carried himself,” Lake Stevens baseball coach Rodger Anderson said of LaVelle, the only freshman who received All-Wesco North first team recognition in 2009.

Following a strong summer and fall of select baseball, LaVelle attracted lots of attention. Baseball Northwest ranked him No. 2 in the state among Class of 2012 prospects.

In preparation for this high school season, LaVelle trained harder than ever, increasing his strength but also losing about 15 pounds. The extra work helped him move from third base to shortstop, where he has excelled.

“He was just noticeably quicker laterally (this spring) but also … he’s got quicker hands,” Anderson said. “He’s in the top three of all the guys I’ve ever coached with his release.”

“Moving to shortstop from third is a big step up,” said Hoelzel, the center fielder, “because they have a lot more ground to (cover) and he’s done that phenomenally. There’s balls that I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go get that.’ And he just scoops it.”

LaVelle, who is homeschooled, is one of several talented Lake Stevens underclassmen. Another one is Anthony Blackie, a sophomore pitcher/outfielder/infielder, is No. 12 in Washington on Baseball Northwest’s 2012 prospect list.

Two of Lake Stevens’ other key contributors are juniors J.T. Cox and Brandon Fiske. Through last week, Cox was 5-0 on the mound with a 1.23 ERA and Fiske was hitting .465 with seven doubles.

Regardless of stats, rankings and age, Lake Stevens is focused on team success and has great chemistry. LaVelle, for example, is “just a regular guy,” Anderson said, “and all the other guys respect him and they respect the other sophomores. It’s a really special group of guys, the whole group.”

Echoed LaVelle: “We’re a tight-knit group and we have a lot of fun.”

Mike Cane: mcane@heraldnet.com. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam.