MOUNT CARMEL -- With an all-time great season comes all-time great recognition.
Wabash Valley College sophomore first baseman and Ole Miss signee Cael Baker received such for his historical campaign and immortalized in Wabash Valley College history on Wednesday, as he was recognized as the 2019 Spalding NJCAA Division I Baseball Player of the Year -- the first Warrior in program history to achieve the illustrious award.
Baker's incredible success paid massive dividends for a Wabash Valley College lineup that led the nation in virtually every offensive category, but in the cleanup spot, Baker raked up RBIs.
The Warriors boasted a 55-4 record this season, highlighted by their blend of incredible bats and a lethal rotation of arms. Their season ended in the NJCAA Northern District Final against Iowa Western, but it didn't end without a number of remarkable accomplishments, including ranking as the No. 1 team in nation for the final eight weeks of the Division I Baseball Poll.
The right-handed slugger led the nation in five different hitting categories, including batting average (.506 BA), home runs (25), RBIs (101), on-base percentage (.569) and slugging percentage (1.051), while capturing the JUCO Triple Crown for leading in the first three aforementioned categories.
He's not unfamiliar with such awards -- Baker was a two-time recipient of the Ohio Player of the Year award for baseball prior to attending the University of Cincinnati.
Earning such an honor puts the cap on what's been an incredible journey for Baker, who took the path less traveled to JUCO after struggling to find his footing as a freshman at the University of Cincinnati. Warriors head baseball coach Rob Fournier said Baker considerably improved by cutting down his strikeouts, in contrast to his brief tenure at UC.
Throughout the year Fournier was highly complimentary of Baker's approach at the plate and even Baker spoke often of his approach leading to his vast success. By trimming the number of missed swings and showing incredible patience at the plate, Baker became a lethal and complete hitter.
"The biggest thing with him was he knew he had to cut down on strikeouts, that's probably why he wasn't successful [at UC]," Fournier spoke of Baker. "He cut that back and that enabled him to hit better pitches, then things just took off. He's got tremendous power and all of the physical stuff played in. It all started with the mental approach first."
Not only is it an incredible honor for Baker, it's an incredible ordeal for the Wabash Valley program. Baker's success, coupled with the overall team success this season will surely help sell recruits for years to come, along with continuing to build the brand of Wabash Valley College baseball.
"I think it speaks volumes for obviously Cael's individual success with the award, but it also speaks to hey, he bought into everything we do at Wabash Valley College and it just speaks to the year that we had," Fournier spoke of Baker. "Obviously he was an anchor for that, but it's everything. It's for the program, it's for the individual, the year we had as a team. What he did was awesome in that he was a Triple Crown winner, that spoke volumes about him as a player, the discipline that he had and just everything. It's great for the school, it's great for our program, but more importantly for him, the time that he put into things, it was great to see him get the results and rewards that he deserved."
"When you buy in and have failure like he did at a Division I school, when you're committed enough and believe in yourself enough, these kinds of things can happen. He could have easily went the other direction for us. He had failure at a Division I school like a lot of young guys do, but he had enough heart and commitment to say hey, I'm going to do something special. It was just beautiful to watch that work."
Now, Baker's committed to attend the University of Mississippi after captivating national attention and Division I schools across the country to his immense success through the course of his sophomore campaign.
Fournier commented that Baker will be hard to replace, joking that you can't replace the type of production which Baker provided with even three separate players. He was incredibly grateful that Baker chose to attend Wabash Valley though, which turned out to be an excellent pairing for both parties.
"We're just thankful that first of all he decided to come to Wabash Valley College and believed in us," Fournier said. "Just so proud of all of the time that he put in and obviously for us it's great recognition for a young man to put Wabash Valley where it is. He helped us get to where we were this year, he was the anchor like I said, it was a beautiful thing."
As one chapter ends and another begins, Baker will be immortalized as one of, if not the greatest Warrior in the program's storied history.