Daily Egyptian

Baseball America notices Saluki freshman

By Aaron Graff, @Aarongraff_DE

SIU baseball may have been swept by No. 1 Texas Christian University during opening weekend this month, but it beat the Horned Frogs by recruiting its starting shortstop two years ago.

Saluki freshman shortstop Chase Slone was picked to be the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year at the end of the season by Baseball America.

“There’s pressure with it, but pressure is a privilege because people expect something out of you,” Slone said.

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Coach Ken Henderson said Slone could potentially win the award if the voters look at the whole picture.

“So many times those awards are based on batting average alone,” Henderson said. “But if you look at him as a player defensively, his instincts and what he brings to the field I think certainly [he could earn it].”

Slone is errorless on 46 chances through eight games. He has been a part of 6 double plays.

Despite being picked to be MVC Freshman of the Year, Henderson said he is not putting higher expectations on Slone than the rest of the freshmen. 

Henderson said Slone is not the player who will work himself up about the award. He just wants to play.

“He’s obsessed with the game and that’s why he has a chance to be such a great player,” Henderson said. 

Henderson said he likes him because he is passionate about the game and has been around the game forever.     

Slone’s father, Tracy, pitched in the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees organizations.

“[My father] has thrown me batting practice since the day I was born,” Slone said. “He’ll critique me as hard as anybody. I could go 3-for-4 and that one time I got out, he’s going to say something about that.”

Tracy had elbow problems, which ended his career. He has been coaching high school baseball for more than 20 years. He currently coaches at Dekalb County High School in Smithville, Tenn.

Slone said he and his dad are similar, and a game of catch in the backyard is the same as it was when he was a little kid. He said he still enjoys playing catch with his dad.

Slone visited TCU and had a lot of contact with the Horned Frogs. He was also in contact with Indiana. However, he liked the coaching staff at SIU and felt like it was the place for him.

He committed to SIU during his junior year of high school.

Slone won the 18 and under World Wood Bat Association National Championship with the Tennessee Knights summer team in 2014. Freshman infielder Greg Lambert was also on that team.

“We were one of those summer teams that was not just a showcase team,” Lambert said. “We were actually a team.”

The two played together with the Knights for three years. Lambert said Slone leads by example and has not changed much since he started at SIU.

Lambert said there is not much of a friendly rivalry; they root for each other.

“He’s usually the defense guy, I’m usually the offense guy,” Lambert said. “Before we came up here I was like, ‘Chase, you’re going to have to help me on defense and I’m going to help you hit.’”

Slone is hitting .222 with 1 home run and 2 RBIs. He said his offense is starting to come around.

Former Saluki shortstop Jake Welch was a four-year starter. He said it is a big adjustment and there is pressure with being a college athlete.

“Freshman year is really hectic,” Welch said. “It’s a ton different than high school.”

Welch said he does not know Slone too well, but heard great things from pitching coach P.J. Finigan, who used to play shortstop and pitch at SIU.

Finigan first saw Slone at a tournament in Florida; he and Henderson both liked Slone.

“You hear about gym rats in basketball, he’s a guy that just loves being on the field,” Henderson said.

Aaron Graff can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 256

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