BY RYAN COBB Sports writer
The game of baseball has been a passion to Rome Free Academy senior Steven Eychner for as long as he can remember.
Ever since he picked up both a glove and a bat, Eychner knew that it was something he wanted to be a part of.
Having come from a family tree filled with talented baseball players, the game has always been in Eychner’s blood and it was just a matter of time for all of his skills to come to fruition.
Eychner steadily went through the ranks with his first crack at the sport coming in tee ball before advancing into Little League, where he learned what the game was all about.
"As a Little Leaguer, there was pressure there because you’re dad is the coach and he’s always hard on you and tries to teach you the ropes, but that’s where you learn a lot and get the basics," Eychner said. "Not as much learning the fundamentals of physically playing the game, but you learn about baseball. How you play, the way to act on the field, hustle and all that."
It wasn’t too long until he started getting licks on the scholastic diamonds where he first competed at the modified level for two years, then advancing for a year in junior varsity before finally entering varsity as a sophomore.
He also played for Rome’s Smith Post American Legion baseball team during the summer since he was a freshman.
Since competing in varsity at the shortstop position, he has posted consistent numbers each year by first collecting a .309 batting average with a double, a home run and seven runs batted in during 2010, then followed it up the next year with five doubles, two triples and six RBIs towards a .295 average. In this early part of the season while batting from the leadoff spot, the shortstop Eychner has posted a double, a triple and an RBI while hitting .333 and has held an on base percentage over .400 each year.
RFA head baseball coach Mike Davis said Eychner is everything a coach would want out of a player.
"He’s a coach’s dream and gives you everything he’s got, whether it’s at shortstop or whether he has to pitch or at the plate," he said. "He knows the game and is very respectful. Just a student of the game and works hard at it. Can’t say enough about him. We should have more players like him."
Eychner roamed the infield throughout his career but it wasn’t until later where he was placed at shortstop on a consistent basis. He admitted that he did have his fair share of struggles of getting a hang of it and gave a lot of the credit to Smith Post head coach Tony Abone Jr. for helping him get a hold of it.
"Coach Abone played in the big leagues as an infielder. He’s always hopping, always on you and every play he’s giving you something to do and something to work on," he said. "He pounds it in your head and the same thing with Coach Davis. It’s got to be second nature. I struggled a bit with it last year, but I’m starting to put it all together this year."
Eychner said playing for Smith Post has always been a thrill for him and he has learned a lot from several different players he’s come across on the team, including RFA phenom Kyle Richardson who is a member of RFA’s "50 Strikeout Club" and is one of four RFA hitters who have batted over a .500 average in their career.
"The thing about summer baseball, it’s different than school where everyone wants to play," he said. "In my first year when I was young at 14, I was playing with guys like Kyle Richardson. There’s no better guys to look up to and learn from. I still keep in contact with (Kyle). This preseason, he’s had me in the gym and on a workout program. I’ve always kind of looked up to him. He’s a great player and has a great attitude."
Not only has he been a threat at shortstop but also on the pitching mound and has become Davis’ No. 1 go-to reliever this season. In his first year, he allowed six runs in 10 innings while striking out eight in five games, then in his junior year he posted a 4.70 earned run average through 15 1-3 innings and struck out 16 for a 1-2 record. Thus far in 2012, he’s allowed four earned runs and struck out five in six innings.
"He’s got some velocity and has three pitches, a fastball, a curve and a changeup, and fields his position," said Davis.
"Everything that is hit in front of him, he can take anything. He knows how to work the plate and work the batter with his mind. He registers batters and is a smart player," he added.
The 17-year-old son of Gary and Patty Eychner of Beech Street has also shown his smarts in the classroom by posting a high 90s grade point average this year. After graduation, Eychner will attend the University of Rochester in the fall and will major in political science. He will also play at the Division III baseball level for Rochester but stated that academics played more of a factor in his choice of schooling than sports.
"I didn’t want to sacrifice playing baseball at a school that wasn’t a top academic school, so I wanted to try to balance both and the University of Rochester is a great fit," he said. "School keeps you going. Playing in baseball in college is going to be great but you can’t rely on it for everything."
When it is all said and done for Eychner’s baseball career at RFA, he said he will look back with fond memories.
"Every game you just got to take it like it’s one more you’re never going to get back and take every at-bat like it’s my last every game," he said. "What happens, happens but as long as if I come off the field knowing that I didn’t give it my all than I know I did something wrong. I got nothing to take with me. I leave it out all on the field because I know I’m not coming back next year."