McPhail provides leadership behind the plate for LHS
It’s one thing for a baseball player to be productive at the plate throughout a given season and have a high batting average. It’s a completely different thing for a player to garner a high average and then have to crouch and catch pitches every inning on defense.
Such is the life of a catcher, and Lafayette’s Jake McPhail not only did an outstanding job of keeping balls in front of him, but also smashing balls back at teams when he was at the plate.
McPhail, a junior, finished the 2014 season with a .410 average, third best on the Commodores and with 42 RBIs, the second best number on the team.
Add those great offensive numbers to the fact that teams rarely stole bases against him or that he rarely let a pitch get past him and it’s easy to see why coach Patrick Robey had him pegged as the team’s Most Valuable Position Player.
“A catcher is like an offensive lineman. They don’t really get noticed until they do something wrong. Jake is a guy that would take a ball in the dirt and just keep it in front. He did that countless times. He did a good job of keeping runners on first base and was just so good defensively,” Robey said. “There were very few attempted stolen bases against us this year because he was so effective behind the plate. As a catcher, you earn your money defensively. He could also hit and he hit extremely well for us this year. That’s what made him such a valuable part of our team. Not only was he such a solid defender and being in on every single pitch, but he was so good with the bat this year. He was a big, big key for us.”
McPhail, the son of Lisa and Mike McPhail, was humble about his success and he made sure to thank his hitting coach, Duke McCrory, for making him better.
“I do my best to contribute. I definitely had a good year at the plate with the help of Coach Duke. He really helped me, and a lot of the other guys, a lot at the plate. I could have had a better year behind the plate. I didn’t throw out as many runners as I would have liked to,” McPhail said. “Overall I feel like I had a pretty good year. People that know baseball, they’re going to know it’s hard to do what we do. I don’t think I’ll hit as good as I catch. They say that good catchers are hard to find, but if you can catch and hit, that’s just icing on the cake.”
The icing on top of the cake from Robey’s perspective was the way McPhail handled the pitching staff, and the defense, when called upon.
“He’s up there in the middle of the action. One of the big things we preach is body language and the way that you carry yourself and there is no other position, outside of the pitcher, where that is so important,” Robey said. “Every defender out there sees how he acts, sees what his mentality is and what his body language is. Not only was Jake a good leader on the field, but in the dugout.
During the ups and downs of the season, he was always a kid that was being levelheaded.”
TJ Hollis, Lafayette’s top pitcher this past season, said it was fun having McPhail behind the plate.
“We’ve bonded over the last three or four years he’s caught me and he knows what I like to do and how I like to throw. He’s what calms me down and gets me going,” Hollis said. “It’s nice to have somebody you know, personally, behind the plate catching you. The wear and tear he takes to his knees and his body overall, he just does a great job behind the plate. I tell him all the time I wouldn’t want anybody else catching me.”
Room to grow
As good as McPhail was this season, he still has another summer and fall to get better heading into 2015, one that is expected to be even better than 2014 was for the Commodores, who have a bevy of seniors coming back from a team that won 20 games and the Region 2-4A title this past season.
“He grew leaps and bounds this year as far as maturity and mentally and also offensively. I could talk about Jake, and a lot of guys, about how much they improved offensively. I think Jake got a better grasp of what he was able to to do. I think Jake understood that it was his job to make the routine plays, to catch and receive and block when he needed to,” Robey said. “Jake did a much better job of not forcing plays that weren’t there. He’s still a high school kid and still making mistakes, but he became so much more aware of what it takes to be a good high school catcher and what all it entails. I think having another year of maturity in his case will help him.”
The part of the game that McPhail said people don’t realize a catcher deals with as much as anything is the mental side of things.
“There is so much more going on with the game that people just don’t see,” McPhail said. “Coach (Josh) Reagen calls pitches during the season, but during summer ball, he’ll let me call them. And being a catcher, it helps when it comes to hitting, knowing which pitches are called is what counts. One kind of feeds off each other.”