Cal Hejza has all the physical tools to be one of the best players in the area.
An intangible could be the most important for Oswego.
Hejza, an Illinois recruit going into this third varsity season, is undoubtedly the leader of a young Oswego group full of juniors. And he embraces that responsibility.
“We’re pretty young, we have a bunch of juniors, we’re trying to set a good example, me and the rest of the seniors. We’re trying to build off what the seniors before left us,” Hejza said.
Hejza will lead the Panthers into what figures to be a rugged Southwest Prairie West. Oswego, coming off a 17-15 season, graduated big bats in Garry Maynard and Luke Menard, and ace Matt Sorrells.
Hejza, a slick-fielding shortstop who fielded to a .930 percentage, also hit .312 with 34 hits, 30 runs scored and 18 RBIs atop Oswego’s lineup.
“He’s very exciting to watch,” Oswego coach Joe Giarrante said. “He’s grown, and he’s at a level that we’re excited to see what he can do, not only playing but from a leadership standpoint and how he would get through to our younger guys. He’s a coach on the field, a very mature kid. We were going to rely on him heavily.”
Hejza, for now, is trying to stay relatively sharp while the season is delayed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Games and practices for at least the first two weeks are canceled.
“Just kind of staying loose, we have a tee in the basement, getting outside where it is safe to hit,” Hejza said. “It’s nothing that we can control right now.”
Also returning for Oswego is catcher Darren Mancke, who hit .300 last season.
They’ll be supplemented by a large junior group, most of whom contributed to a 26-5 sophomore team last year, that includes pitcher Blake Hamblin, pitcher/first baseman Jeffery Behrands, third baseman Brady Peterlin, shortstop/second baseman Gavin Arseneau, shortstop/second baseman Nathan Bradford, outfielders Alex Mielcarz and Sam Gwodz and pitchers Sam Bolander and Devin Hoffman.
“They were pretty successful at the younger levels,” Giarrante said. “Gavin will fill in nicely at spots, Brady is a nice bat, Blake came up with us last year and got his first varsity win late in the year and filled a crucial relief role down the stretch. He’s grown physically and mentally, and I’m excited to watch him this spring. Behrands is a lefty pitcher that’s shown a lot of promise. We like what we have on the mound.”
It’s tough for Giarrante to fully gauge what he has with the young group, without competition. And he’s not sure when that will come.
“The hardest thing for me is we would have been playing our best baseball at the end of the year,” Giarrante said. “But we’ll play when we get there.”