Baggett goes from bench to run-producer

As the sun set Friday evening, Loyalsock infielder Tommy Baggett wore a gold medal around his neck and celebrated winning a Class AA state championship.

As the sun rose Saturday morning, Baggett was wide awake, preparing to play again. Instead of basking in the championship glow, Baggett was going back to work, this time to play travel baseball two hours away in Allentown. There are no off days for this determined player.

If one wants to know why Baggett has become such a good baseball player there you have it. He is talented, but more importantly, Baggett possesses an insatiable work ethic.

“I can’t say enough good things about Tommy Baggett,” Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. “He’s a dream come true for a coach to have.”

Baggett is something else, too. Look at his season-long journey and one realizes he is really the old-fashioned American success story.

When the season opened, Baggett was not a starter. By season’s end he was the team’s leading run producer, a first team HAC-II all-star and a state champion. A player who opened the season on the bench is now receiving Division I college interest.

Schools that arrived at Loyalsock to look at players like Jimmy Webb, Kyle Datres and Luke Glavin also noticed Baggett. He stood out, hitting well and fielding even better. Injuries and other issues could have negatively impacted Loyaslock, but Baggett helped keep things going strong, playing both third base and first base while rarely making an error.

He became more than a first-time starter. Baggett became one of Loyalsock’s most valuable players, hitting .318 and driving in 26 runs.

“Tommy is one of those guys who has that killer intinct that you just can’t teach,” Eck said. “Nothing fazes the kid. He shows no emotion and plays the game the right way, 100 miles per hour.”

A state-wide audience saw that Friday. Baggett played an error-less game at third base – after playing first base in the Eastern final – and also went 1 for 2 with two RBIs as Loyalsock edged Beaver, 5-4. Baggett was one out from having the game-winning RBI after his fifth-inning single put Loyalsock up 5-4.

Baggett came up with potential game-winning runner Caleb Robbins on second in the bottom of the seventh. First base was open, but Beaver intentionally walking Baggett was more a show of respect than anything else. After Baggett slammed a hard-hit sacrifice fly and a single to center field in his previous two at-bats, Beaver wanted no parts of him.

That strategy backfired, as Bailey Young followed by hitting a walk-off single that lifted Loyalsock to its first state championship since 2008. Baggett did not get a chance to play the hero, but Young would not have either had Baggett not played so well.

“We knew we were going to play for one run and get guys on base,” Baggett said. “I didn’t care how it happened, I just wanted to win.”

Baggett was a big-time run producer throughout the regular season and he helped Loyalsock capture its fifth straight HAC-II championship. Once playoffs started, however, he fell into a slump. He started coming alive Tuesday when he belted an RBI single as Loyalsock routed Salisbury, 8-1, in the Eastern Final. Friday, he really started breaking out.

After grounding out in his first at-bat, Baggett ripped a line drive into deep center field, easily scoring Jimmy Webb and giving Loyaslock a 3-1 lead. Two innings later, Baggett gave Loyaslock momentum and the lead back when he ripped an RBI single up the middle off Radford-bound pitcher Austin Ross.

“I was definitely seeing the ball well. I went into a little slump going into the playoffs but I was seeing it well (Friday) and it felt good,” Baggett said. “It was definitely a good time to get out of the slump.”

Baggett did not just break out of that funk, he worked out of it. The sophomore, also a key member of Loyalsock’s state quarterfinalist in basketball last winter, spent extra time taking batting practice and receiving tips from former Major Leaguer Tom O’Malley last week. Whatever could be done, Baggett was doing it.

“Tommy is a gamer,” Eck said.

Even while discussing the state championship, he just helped Loyalsock win, Baggett was still eager to work. He already was talking about 2014 and making a repeat push. Every day he wants to get better. Glory comes with a price and every day Baggett pays it.

“We’re happy about this but next year we’re losing only a couple guys and we want to come back strong next year,” Baggett said. “It’s not going to be easy. It wasn’t easy this year and it won’t be easy next year. We have to work hard in the offseason and work hard once the season starts.”

That is all Baggett knows.