BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Better late than never. That is what recent Kokomo graduate Chase Hatfield was thinking when Ancilla College baseball coach Joe Yonto offered the Wildkat pitcher a spot on the Chargers roster.
“I have no idea where they came from; I think (Kokomo head baseball coach Tim) Weeks helped them find me,” said Hatfield. “They called and I went to a tryout and a week later they asked me to join.”
Ancilla, located near Plymouth in Donaldson, Ind., is a two-year institution that plays in the in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association and is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
“I really like their facilities and it is a great campus,” said Hatfield, who will study criminal justice and computer science. “They graduated 14 players and are looking at me to pitch and play some infield and outfield. I have a great opportunity.”
Kokomo assistant coach Shawn Mayfield, sitting in at Hatfield’s signing for a vacationing Weeks, said Hatfield has great potential at the next level and Ancilla is a good stepping-stone for a potential move to a four-year program.
“He brought some outstanding pitching for us throughout his career,” said Mayfield. “He came up as a sophomore and I remember him pitching in a double-header against New Castle – that kicked off his career. He has good command on the mound and his fastball is a strength. As he moves on to the next level, he needs to become more consistent. He will need to hit the corners and get ahead in the count at the next level. He will have a lot to add at Ancilla.”
Hatfield will play for a head coach who has a strong track record in both college and major league baseball. Now in his seventh season, Yonto takes pride in the fact that 95-percent of his players have gone on to four-year colleges to complete their degree and continue their athletic careers. His 2008 team finished 38th in the nation in team batting average. The Chargers baseball team is also active in community service functions
“My goal as a coach is to teach first, make a positive impact on young people and help them advance towards their goals in life,” said Yonto, who arrived at Ancilla College after spending five years with the Cleveland Indians as a Vision Trainer, working with the major league players on tracking the ball and strengthening their eye muscles. Some of the players Yonto trained were Ellis Burks, Casey Blake, Alex Cora, Aaron Boone, Juan Gonzalez, Jose Hernandez, Ryan Ludwig, Travis Hafner, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Russell Branyan and CoCo Crisp. Now he sets his sights on Hatfield.
“We are excited to have Chase as a Charger,” said Yonto. “He came in for a combine workout and he is a very talented young man who comes from a strong program. He is very durable and will be an asset for us.”
Yonto said Hatfield should have an immediate impact on the Charger program. With a roster that rotates every two years, there are plenty of opportunities to get into a game and show what he can do. For Hatfield, that could be at more than one position.
“We are looking for him to pitch, but he is talented enough to play another position,” said Yonto. “But we want to ensure we take care of his arm and not overwork him with play at other positions. It is tougher in college to play two positions, but I think he is talented enough of a young man that he will be able to contribute at both ends.”
Hatfield said he has his eyes on a four-year degree in criminal justice, and would love to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation someday. Mayfield, a retired Kokomo police officer, thinks Hatfield has what it takes to reach that dream.
“I have talked to him throughout his career and he does have an interest in law enforcement,” said Mayfield. “He will get two years of schooling at Ancilla and will transfer to finish his degree, which is required for the FBI. And yes, I could see him getting there someday – it won’t be easy, but he could make it.”
While the offer may have come after he walked across the Memorial Gymnasium stage with his KHS diploma, it wasn’t too late for Hatfield. He will take the knowledge of playing in the North Central Conference against players like MLB No. 7 draft pick Trey Ball of New Castle – a player he once struck out – to the next level of play at Ancilla.