By Brett Marshall
By all standards, it would have been just as easy for Easton Lager to toss the glove in and the bat down.
After all, a freak injury in a physical education class in November of 2017 put an end to what he had hoped would be a promising junior season with the Garden City High School baseball team.
He was primed for a starting role in center field under new coach Justin Reich, but all that was snapped when he landed wrong on his right leg, suffering a torn ACL, an injury requiring him to have surgery and then spend the next five-plus months in therapy and rehab.
“It was just really hard to sit on the bench and watch the team and not be able to help them,” Lager recalled of that interrupted junior campaign. “The team struggled a little and I just wanted to get back as soon as possible, and get ready for my senior season.”
Thus far, just past the mid-point of the 2019 season, Lager’s return has coincided with a resurgence of the Buffs’ success on the diamond. Through 14 games, the team had posted a 10-4 overall record, going 4-4 in the Western Athletic Conference. They had split doubleheaders with foes Great Bend and Liberal, won the first of two games against Dodge City at home, and then won the second game in Dodge on April 23, 8-7, winning both games by a single tally. Their other two losses came at home against Hays.
“Things have gone really well so far,” Lager said. “There’s a lot more team chemistry. I think we were all a little devastated by last season. But this group has been playing a lot of years together, the sophomores too, and I think we just get along really well.”
Lager, a right-handed hitter and thrower, has started all the games in centerfield, and he has provided Reich with a rock solid performance defensively. He also is ripping the seams off the baseball. He is averaging .575 with 23 hits in 40 at-bats, with 18 singles, 4 doubles and 1 triple. He has scored 13 runs and driven in 10 runs. His on-base percentage is a lofty .653. slugging percentage is .725 and his on base+slugging percentage is 1.378.
“I think I’ve just been pretty comfortable at the plate, and trying to get the bat on the ball and hit it where the pitch is made,” Lager said of his hitting success.
In the field, Lager is the captain of the three outfielders, helping place his left and right fielders with assistance from his coaching staff.
“I’ve been playing outfield most of my life and this is the chance I have to show how I can play,” Lager said. “It’s been fun to run the outfield positions and help others as much as I can. (Coach Anthony) Ortiz does a great job of helping us position ourselves according to the wind and hitters from the scouting report.”
He also is ticketed for some pitching duties, but has seen limited action thus far, going just two-thirds of an inning, but with no hits or runs yielded, no strikeouts or walks.
Lager’s fielding has been flawless thus far, successfully handling 25 chances flawlessly. While he has yet to throw out a runner trying to advance, he considers one of his strengths to be his arm.
“I’ve always been able to throw long,” he said. “And with centerfield, you’ve just got to be able to get it to the infield quickly and with some velocity.”
The process of maturing from freshman to sophomore to now senior has also been a journey for Lager.
“I think before I put a lot of pressure on myself and this year I’m just calming myself a lot better and getting myself in the best position to be successful,” Lager said. “Playing the field, you just kind of hear the crack of the bat, and find the ball and see where it’s going, and then react as quickly as you can.”
Being able to regain his health and play for the Buffs in his senior year has provided the opportunity for some special memories, he said.
“It just means a lot to be able to play again, and to play with guys I grew up with,” he said. “It just feels good to throw the uniform on and get out there.”
He was a 7-year-old when he played his first competitive baseball when his family was living in Wichita. They moved to Garden City when he was in the seventh grade and it’s been summer ball and spring high school ball ever since.
“We definitely have some goals we want to achieve,” Lager said. “We want to go 2-0 vs. Dodge City and we want to get a high seed for regional so we can play at home. And we want to get a chance to go to state, something that hasn’t been done in a long time.”
Once he completes his high school, graduates from GCHS, Lager plans to attend Garden City Community College the next two years (baseball future is uncertain) and wants to eventually earn a degree so he can be a physical education teacher and coach.