Love can overcome all, especially when it involves baseball.
Hunter McIntosh, The Republic’s 2012 Player of the Year for baseball, went through a bit of heartache last year as a freshman at Alabama State.
“I missed being away from home,” McIntosh said.
“I missed my brother (Kyler, a fifth-grader at Richards), my family (dad Dennis and mom Lani), my grandpa (Curtis McIntosh). This year is completely different. I love the weather, I love the game, I love my teammates.”
McIntosh said a lot of college athletes have to decide if they want to continue their relationship with a favorite sport. A freshman season can be an eye-opener.
“The biggest difference in college is dedication,” he said. “You find out who loves the game and who doesn’t. If you love the game, success will come.”
He has seen the other side, where players simply give up the game. He didn’t want to be one of those, so he got to work.
“In high school, we practiced every day about two hours,” McIntosh said. “Here, we begin with a lift at 6 a.m. We go to class and then we have a four- to five-hour practice that begins at 3 p.m.”
All that work helps the athletes develop an edge when they go on the field.
“I’ve developed as a player mentally,” said McIntosh, who helped Columbus North to a 24-3 record and a Conference Indiana championship in 2012. “In high school, if I threw the ball down the middle, I knew most players weren’t going to hit it. Here, if you leave the ball up in the zone, it’s going to be a home run or off the fence.”
Alabama State has crushed its Southwestern Athletic Conference competition and has a six-game lead in the Eastern Division at 14-1. The Hornets are 26-12 overall.
Head coach Mervyl Melendez is testing McIntosh, who played shortstop and pitcher at North, as his team’s closer. He has been successful in two of three attempts.
“It’s brand new for me,” McIntosh said. “Last year I was a starter, and that’s ultimately what I want to be.”
At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, McIntosh doesn’t have the kind of speed on his fastball that is going to blow away opponents, so control is paramount. He would like to pack another 10 pounds on his frame going into next season, when he is a junior and eligible for the Major League Baseball draft.
McIntosh was 6-1 with a 0.76 ERA his final year at North, and he also hit a then-school record .500. Current North junior Devin Mann broke that mark last season by hitting .532.
In 17 appearances this season, McIntosh is 2-2 with a 4.87 ERA. In 20-1/3 innings, he has allowed 11 earned runs.
“I allowed four earned runs against Mercer (on April 8),” McIntosh said. “I couldn’t get anyone out (actually, one batter). They are one of the top offensive teams in the nation. And if you have one bad outing when you are a reliever, it can ruin your ERA for the season.”
Most of his outings have been successful; and, despite his heavy workload, he believes he is making forward strides.
“This year, we want to outwork every team in the country,” he said. “I’ve worked the hardest I ever have. But pitching is more than throwing the ball. You have to control the game. We do a lot of key situational stuff. You have to be able to field your position.”
With so many games on the schedule, McIntosh has learned to balance his academic load as well.
“It’s a lot of communication with your professors, who are not your biggest fans,” he said. “If you are not going to be able to turn in your paper, it will be OK as long as you communicate. If you do that, the stress isn’t there.”
Some of his friends thought McIntosh was headed for a lot of stress since he chose a predominantly black university that is seeking to become more diverse.
“Alabama State is in the early stages of trying to grow,” McIntosh said. “(The racial makeup) wasn’t really a concern to me. I based my decision to come here on the coach (Melendez) and his track record.
“My friends did ask me, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ It is different, for sure, and it took some getting used to. But we’re all human, and we’re all the same. I haven’t had any issues.”
Right now his main issue is trying to get the ball past some of the nation’s top hitters. The regular season goes through May 2-4 when Alabama State travels to Miami (Fla.) for a three-game series. Then the road toward a regional berth begins.
It’s a journey that McIntosh will love.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.