Prep Baseball: Dietz: Raider to Crusader
By Mike London
LANDIS — A potential source of friction has become a positive for South Rowan’s baseball team this season.
South coach Thad Chrismon has only 13 varsity players, but two are seniors whose best position is third base.
Friendly competition between Jacob Dietz and Cory Deason has pushed both to perform well. They’ve formed an effective tag-team, with Dietz handling the hot corner and usually batting fourth, and Deason settling into the DH spot and usually hitting sixth.
“It’s taken some adjustments after batting seventh or eighth last year and seeing a whole lot of fastballs,” Dietz said. “When you bat cleanup, they mix it up more. Lots of curves and sliders.”
Good point. But Dietz will still carry a .367 batting average into the 3A state playoffs, while Deason weighs in at a healthy .356.
“It’s worked out well,” Chrismon said of the duo. “They’ve practiced over there at third together every day and both have swung it solid.”
Dietz will play at the next level. He’s headed to Conference Carolinas to suit up for Belmont Abbey. He’ll follow South’s Caleb Shore, who will be a senior outfielder for BA’s Crusaders next spring.
Dietz played varsity ball as a sophomore. His bat wasn’t ready, but South desperately needed someone to handle second base, and Dietz was Chrismon’s best option.
Still playing second base out of necessity as a junior, Dietz improved 100 percent offensively, doubling his batting average (.313) and nearly doubling his RBI count (15).
The improvement took another quantum jump between his junior and senior seasons.
He lifted weights diligently last fall and added muscle in the right places. Swimming the 500 freestyle for South baseball assistant Greg Yanz over the winter improved his conditioning and stamina.
Between prep baseball seasons, Dietz also worked on swing mechanics with Jeff Schaefer, who spent time in the big leagues, at Carolinas Baseball Center in Charlotte.
Dietz played a lot of games for the CBC Diamond Rats, mostly as a third baseman or first baseman, and he’ll most likely be a third baseman at the college level.
As a senior, Dietz has had an opportunity to play third regularly for the first time for South. He’s been able to move because of the arrival of a pair of middle infielders — sophomore Dylan Goodman and junior Parker Hubbard. They’re more nimble and have more range than the stocky Dietz.
“Dietz did an admirable job for us for two years when we needed him at second base, but third base is probably the better fit for him,” Chrismon said.
“Third feels more natural to me than anywhere else,” he said. “It’s mostly reaction.”
Offensively, Dietz’s role also has changed dramatically. Pitchers didn’t pay much attention to him in 2010 because they were too busy worrying about Maverick Miles and Blake Houston.
This season, as South’s cleanup hitter, Dietz has been vital as the guy hitting behind sophomore catcher Eric Tyler.
“Jacob’s been the guy we’ve asked to protect Eric in our lineup, and we knew, as a senior, that he could handle it,” Chrismon said. “He’s also been really good at helping our young infielders along. All young guys have their dips and downs, and he’s helped them stay positive.”
Dietz struggled with his bat early this spring, getting off to a 1-for-14 start. Chrismon had to drop him in the lineup for two weeks, but an 11-for-18 stretch — five straight multi-hit games — restored his confidence. Then he moved back up.
“There’s been a lot more on my shoulders this year without Mav and Blake and Dylan Walker,” Dietz said. “I just had to adjust to more pressure.”
Dietz has yet to homer this season, although he did belt a 385-foot triple to South’s distant right field in a game against Carson. That’s OK with Chrismon, who isn’t looking for homers from him.
“When you try to hit homers, you tend to strike out and pop up,” Chrismon said. “We’ve asked Dietz to hit line drives, and he’s done a good job of that. I’m proud of how he’s played, and I’m proud any time one of our guys gets to go on in baseball.”
With his college choice settled, Dietz is trading showcase baseball for American Legion. He’ll be a Legion rookie, but he’ll be an experienced rookie, and he could prove a big asset.
One thing everyone agrees on is that he’s earned respect for the way he’s handled several new roles as a senior.
“Dietz is a great friend,” Deason said. “You can’t ask for a better teammate.”