Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
MINFORD — In the game of baseball, there may not be a harder job than catching a game for seven, or nine, innings behind the plate.
That’s especially true, however, when it’s a team making a deep run in a postseason tournament — and you’re needed as the leader of a strong defensive unit.
Throughout the 2018 baseball season, Minford’s Luke Lindamood was a treasured commodity for the Falcons, based on his ability as a catcher and as a three-hole hitter during the team’s historic run to the Division III OHSAA Final Four.
Last Monday, Lindamood, a talented two-way player who hopes to perform in many of the same areas that he has in the past two seasons as a full-time starter behind the plate, made his college destination official. The senior signed to play for West Virginia Tech’s baseball program next spring.
For Lindamood, the opportunity to play the game he loves at the collegiate level is one he sees as a great blessing.
“It means a lot to me to be able to play college baseball,” Lindamood said. “I’ve always dreamed about it and have always had that ambition to play. To finally be able to sign, do that, and not have to worry about if I’m going to get any more offers from colleges or universities means a great deal.”
For WV Tech coach Lawrence Nesselrodt, Lindamood’s earned his way onto his radar with what he’s seen out of Lindamood during his career. Nesselrodt is in his 35th season coaching and his 11th as the head coach of the Beckley, W. Va.-based program.
“We’re excited,” Nesselrodt said. “We know that Luke is a winner on and off of the field of play. Academically, athletically, and socially, he’s top-notch. The key to any team is having a guy who is strong behind the plate, and I think that he’s going to have an opportunity to step in and help us immediately. There’s no doubt that he has the skill set to do that.”
Lindamood, who’s in his third season as Minford’s starting catcher, has already led the Falcons to greener pastures as a program with his play on the field.
During his sophomore year, Lindamood was a part of a unit that was critical in advancing to a Division III district final after a year where the Falcons finished as the SOC II’s runner-up. In his second season, Minford improved on those marks greatly behind the play of Lindamood, whose ability to keep runners honest on the base paths and block potential passed balls proved to be paramount in a 24-3 season — that included the program’s first outright SOC Championship in 50 years and the program’s first-ever OHSAA Final Four berth.
Lindamood, however, will be the first one to admit that Minford is far from a one-man show. Ethan Lauder and Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis are not only excellent control pictures, but fill much-needed slots at third base and right field, respectively. Beyond the trio, Brayden Davis and Darius Jordan bring speed and standout gloves to left and center field, respectively, while Nathan McCormick’s athleticism at shortstop is second-to-none.
Then, there’s Bailey Rowe and Reid Shultz, who could each be called Mr. Utility for their work and presence in the field at different positions.
And when you add in the promising abilities of Matthew Risner among additional youngsters, the 2019 season could arguably have as much upside for the program as any in its entire history.
“We have a great bond on this team,” Lindamood said. “Everyone likes each other and no one has a problem with each other. We just go out there with the idea of playing baseball, and we all want to succeed at it together while having fun doing it.”
While the program is talented, it doesn’t make Lindamood’s role in the success, both on and off of the diamond, any less important.
“Luke’s the kind of guy that we know will do a great job defensively for us,” Nesselrodt said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. He’ll slow down some running games just on his arm strength, but beyond that, he receives well, blocks the plate well, and more than anything, has that aura of being a leader.”
At West Virginia Tech, Lindamood, who plans to major in Engineering, will certainly be putting himself to the test in multiple causes.
Off the baseball field, Lindamood will be majoring in a program that is among the top-100 undergraduate engineering programs in the entire country. On it, he’ll be playing for Nesselrodt, who has won 571 career games in his 27 seasons as a head coach and has coached Major League Baseball veterans such as Gaby Sanchez and Jon Jay in the prestigious Shenandoah Valley Summer Collegiate Baseball League.
“What really attracted us to him was his mental approach,” Nesselrodt said. “That’s exemplified by his grade point average and his commitment to his academics. Then, when you talk to his coaches and people in the community about his character and his commitment as a person, it’s a no-brainer what kind of person you’re going to get. He’s the kind of guy that we’re looking for and a guy that we’re hoping to continue to build around.”
“I like the winning tradition that’s evident at West Virginia Tech,” Lindamood said. “Plus, they have a great Engineering program, which means a lot to me as a person to have the opportunity to get a great education from an academic and an athletic standpoint.”
For now, the time and the moment is all Lindamood’s as a person who can sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor — as well as the family members, including his parents, Bobby and Julie, who have supported him throughout his journey as a student-athlete.
“My mom and dad were always there alongside me,” Lindamood said. “They were always there comparing the pros and cons of each choice, and the coaches just helped me the entire time. They were there for any answers to questions that I needed to ask or if I needed anything. It means a lot. My family has always supported me. With anything that I’ve ever needed, they’ve always been there for me. Then, with my friends, they’re just rock-solid. I’m very blessed.”
And make no mistake about it … Luke Lindamood isn’t stopping at first base on his journey to becoming the best collegiate athlete, and adult, that he can be going forward.
“I’m just going to go and compete for the spot [at catcher], and hopefully, earn it,” Lindamood said. “If I do, I’m just going to try, be a leader, and set an example for my fellow teammates, and if I don’t, I’m going to continue to work to do the best for my teammates and myself.”
“Most athletes stop themselves,” Nesselrodt said. “They set their barriers and limitations at a certain point, and are honestly afraid to go beyond that due to going out of their comfort zone. It’s a guy like Luke, who leads by example, that will bring us to not only a conference championship level, but to a regional and a national championship level.”