When Nodaway Valley alum Tyler Vandewater goes back to college this month and rejoins his baseball team there, he’ll do so after gaining some valuable repetitions on a team back home that he played on for much of this summer.
Vandewater will be sophomore at Benedictine University, an NAIA Division I school in Mesa, Arizona.
This summer, Vandewater has played for the Des Moines Peak Prospects, which are based in Granger and part of the MINK League, more locally known as the home to the Clarinda As. These are the only two Iowa teams in the conference to date, as the other seven are in Missouri. The Carroll Merchants are a former member of the league.
Vandewater said summer ball is a lot more relaxing. While the schedule is just as grueling—they play nearly every day when the schedule is at its peak—the days off aren’t filled with class like they are for him back in Arizona.
“It’s focused on getting at-bats and swings rather than working on specific specific like you do in college,” Vandewater said.
Because of the makeup of the MINK League, the majority of Vandewater’s games have been in Missouri. A highlight for him was playing in front of about 3,000 fans in a game at St. Joseph once this summer. Players on the Peak Prospects mostly call Iowa home, however there are some who are from California and some from Alabama.
At BU this fall, Vandewater will be in mostly a utility role. While he’s played all around the field for the Redhawks and spent some notable time as a second baseman, he’s been a catcher until this point mostly, like he was when he played for Nodaway Valley High School.
“Our first practice down there last year on January 3, it was 82 degrees. It was absolutely gorgeous,” Vandewater said. “That’s mostly what the spring looks like down there.”
In the fall portion of their season, Benedictine will typically face off against area community colleges in an abbreviated schedule, but last year, COVID-19 stifled many of those chances when about half of Vandewater’s team became infected with the virus. Vandewater is excited for those chances to possibly become more numerous this fall as they prepare for the meatier portion of their season, which comes in the spring.
The differences between high school and college baseball are small but notable, Vandewater said. The pitchers throw with greater velocity, off-speed pitches are more precise and effective, and routine plays in the field almost always result in outs.
Players also more often specialize, meaning they typically train for and play only one position. Vandewater enjoys playing catcher because you can “control the game” and “see the whole field and know what’s going on, and you’re expected to dictate where everyone needs to be and where the ball needs to go.”
Vandewater said he hopes his team can go back to regionals and see what they can accomplish with a full and healthy team.
“As far as personal goals, I want to see if I can get myself up in that starting lineup routinely, contributing to the team as best I can,” Vandewater said.