Power helps Pendleton product rise up

large_WEB-LucasColumn-p_061416_002

By Grant Lucas
The Bulletin

Tommy Lane’s swing appears simple and smooth yet packs the power of a heavyweight’s knockout punch.

The slugger from Pendleton honed this whip of the bat back in Eastern Oregon, where the first baseman clubbed underinflated basketballs off a batting tee as his father mentored him. “You’ve got to hit to the ball and THROUGH the ball,” Lane recalls his dad saying. “You can’t just HIT the ball; you’ve got to hit five balls past it to get through it.” Throughout his youth Lane was a fixture at the batting cage, rarely missing an opportunity to master his craft.

Lane, a rising senior at Marshall University in West Virginia, has always been the biggest player on his team. Now standing 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighing a muscular 235 pounds, he continues to hammer baseballs this summer with the Bend Elks. Lane has long been a long-ball hitter. He belted 11 home runs and had 52 RBIs as a junior at Pendleton High — both school records — before starring at Mt. Hood Community College, where he batted .307 as a freshman with Northwest Athletic Conference highs in home runs (five) and RBIs (25). Then, as a sophomore in 2015, he hit .306 and posted league bests in homers (11) and RBIs (49).

He was voted to the NWAC’s all-South Region second team as a freshman and then to the all-conference first team following his sophomore season, in which he helped Mt. Hood to the NWAC championship game.

And he continues to amaze.

In batting practice prior to the Elks’ season opener two weeks ago, Lane’s easy-yet-explosive swing resulted in three straight towering fly balls over the “BEND ELKS BASEBALL” sign that stretches above the fence in right-center field at Vince Genna Stadium — easily a 380-foot shot. He smacked another pitch off that same sign before blasting another moonshot over it.

Elks coach Casey Powell, standing nearby, turned away from the tape-measure action and, with a smile, shook his head in disbelief. Two days later, during another pregame session, Powell kept his eyes on Lane as the left-handed hitter slugged a ball to right field that cleared both the fence and, presumably, Wilson Avenue beyond.

He is as humble as he is mighty. Powell recalls that after launching that street-clearing rocket, Lane routinely exited the cage to make way for the next Elks batter. Says the Bend coach: “He was behind the cage before that thing even landed.”

Now in his second season with the Elks (3-7), Lane looks to continue his climb and potentially be discovered by major league scouts. Powell, who is also the Elks’ general manager, is surprised that Lane somehow continues to dodge the pros’ radar. “That body with those numbers and home runs,” Powell says, “you would think somebody would be interested there.”

Lane, though, had his pick among several NCAA Division I programs. That dazzling junior season at Pendleton High generated buzz that he could be selected high in the MLB draft. Despite missing his entire senior season (he broke his left collarbone while playing basketball for the Buckaroos that year), he had been recruited by the likes of Seattle and Portland (“I definitely had my choices,” Lane recounts). Ultimately, though, he committed to play at St. Mary’s in California.

Lane never made it to St. Mary’s; a change in the team’s coaching staff allowed him to renege on his letter of intent, and he decided to remain in Oregon and play at Mt. Hood. A standout freshman season earned him an invitation to play at a showcase event in Washington state , where a recruiter from Marshall took notice of the hard-hitting lefty. Before exploding in his sophomore year at MHCC, Lane visited the Huntington, West Virginia, school and committed to the Thundering Herd, providing the floundering program with a thunderous bat.

“I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself, I guess,” says Lane, who batted .240 with 14 RBIs but no home runs in just 29 games for the Elks last summer. Through 10 games this season, he is hitting just .176 but has doubled, homered and driven in four runs. “I just showed up (at Marshall) in the fall. It was grueling. I’d never really been through that strenuous kind of weight conditioning and then baseball on top of it. It was tough, but I got a lot better.”

According to Lane, the Marshall coaches were still undecided about who would start at first base to open the season. Lane got the nod, and he did not disappoint. In his first at-bat and with his parents in the stands, Lane, as he had done many times before, teed off for a home run to center field — the second of the Herd’s back-to-back homers in the inning. He would start every game the rest of the season, during which Marshall won a program-record 34 games for its first winning season since 1994. He was named the Conference USA newcomer of the year and voted to the all-conference first team.

“I always try to set goals high,” Lane says, adding that a focus on preparation the previous fall led to a spring season that “definitely exceeded everybody’s expectations.”

“It was a great environment to succeed in,” he says. “It was just baseball.”

Lane concedes that he has never been the fastest or the most athletic player. His defensive abilities, well, he might have been lacking — though not these days, Powell assures. “It’s a completely different player,” says Powell, who was an assistant at Seattle University and recruited Lane in high school. “Last (summer), we probably would have considered him a defensive liability. But now he’s got no fear going out there and trying to get the short hop. It’s amazing how different his defense has become.”

Powell calls Lane a “fierce” competitor. “You see him get emotional sometimes, but when he’s in the clubhouse or out with the guys on the road, he’s just cool and easy.

“But, man,” he adds, “when he steps between the lines, you should be happy he’s on your team.”

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: