June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Softball: Unique approach had healthy results for Kaitlin Krajcik

Highland's Kaitlin Krajcik is the 2013 Gazette MVP in softball. (PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RON SCHWANE)

One of the most remarkable offensive seasons in Medina County softball history can be at least partially attributed to, drum roll please, lima beans.

Highland senior Kaitlin Krajcik, The Gazette’s 2013 MVP and county Triple Crown winner, loves to practice.

Her parents, Jackie and Anthony, still have random vegetable plants cropping up on their five-acre property in Granger Township to prove it.

“Two years ago, my mom was googling ways to help people watch the ball in,” Krajcik said. “I had gotten contacts, so visual improvement was a real focus for me. We hit lima beans because they were smaller than little Wiffle balls. Plus, you didn’t have to chase them.”

Over and over, Krajcik’s mother would soft-toss lima beans. Over and over, Krajcik would practice her swing. Not half-hearted, but full-out, to the point of drenching her shirt in sweat.

“I’m a pretty picky practice person when it comes to batting,” the Division II Ursuline College recruit said. “I get really serious. I go pretty fast and I swing pretty hard, so I pretty much do my own thing.”

This season, it pretty much worked, too.

Krajcik set what is believed to be a county record with 10 home runs while also leading the area in batting average (.530) and runs batted in (45) in a Triple Crown season.

On top of that, she finished first or tied for first in the county in on-base percentage (.621), slugging percentage (1.108), OPS (1.729), doubles (10), triples (4), stolen bases (12) and hit by pitches (9).

“She was very deserving of everything she got,” teammate and four-time All-Gazette pick AnnMarie Kirchner said. “She’s one of the hardest workers on our team, and all that work really paid off for her.”

In addition to smashing lima beans, Krajcik practiced three times a week over the summer and participated in tournaments two or three days a week with the NEO Phoenix, often playing three or four games a day.

The 5-foot-9, 162-pounder also took six months of hitting lessons from two-time Olympic gold-medal winning power hitter Crystl Bustos, learned to block balls behind the plate from former Akron Racers catcher Liz Young and spent countless hours hitting balls off a batting tee.

“I swing even harder in practice, but I also practice to use that swing in a game,” Krajcik said. “Not a lot of people do that. They’ll slow down, because you get tired, naturally. I’ll swing full out every time. I’ll be dripping with sweat in practice.”

As important as Krajcik’s physical work was, the 18-year-old also altered her mental approach to the game. A perfectionist by nature, Krajcik forced herself to remember the good and forget about the bad.

After hitting a respectable .329 with three doubles, five triples, two home runs and 23 RBIs to earn honorable mention All-Gazette honors as a junior, Krajcik belted a home run in Highland’s first game this season, against Green, and never looked back.

“Her confidence level was so much higher this year,” Hornets coach Nick Spirtos said. “She would come early and leave late and always ask for extra fielding practice, extra hitting practice.

“But she also went to the tees and hit by herself. She was very quiet. She went to the corner and took her batting tee and hit, hit, hit. She just did it on her own.”

Having compiled a 3.77 grade-point average and scored a 29 on the ACT, that’s the way Krajcik approaches everything she does.

An accomplished painter who gave Spirtos an oil pastel she did of him coaching third base, Krajcik plays saxophone and performs on the dance line for the marching band. She is considering a double major of art education and special education at Ursuline, where softball will continue to play a prominent role in her life.

“I’m just taking everything one step at a time,” she said. “I focused more on enjoying the game this year than stats, and it worked out pretty well.”

Pretty well? In addition to all her eye-popping numbers, Krajcik earned second-team D-I All-Ohio honors and first-team all-district recognition. On top of that, she called all the pitches for Highland’s staff and continually threw her body in front of balls in the dirt.

“I like the mental aspect of pitch-calling,” she said. “I truly enjoy understanding how people swing and what pitch is going to be hardest for them to hit.”

Opposing teams are still wondering how to pitch to Krajcik, who had four more home runs than her nearest challenger in the county. She won the batting title by .046, led in on-base percentage by .080 and had a whopping .436 advantage in slugging percentage.

And to think lima beans played a key role.

“I think there’s still some plants growing on the side of the house,” Krajcik said. “I didn’t think much of it when I got the first home run, but once I got to the fourth one, I thought, ‘Wow, OK, I guess lessons and all that practice were really worth it.’

“I didn’t think too much about it, because a lot of the problems I had in the past were due to overthinking and trying too hard. I just kept swinging.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.