CARY, N.C. -– Sitting on the bench stinks.
It’s a simple fact of life. Baseball players want to play baseball, and when that’s not happening, watching from the dugout can be tough. Get in the game for an inning or two, maybe for a pinch hit, and there’s a tendency to press.
They try so hard, desperation tends to sometimes come through in their performance. When that happens, it’s right back to the bench for more time on the pine.Either that, or role players can handle the situation the way Southern Indiana’s Caleb Eickhoff did earlier this year. A junior college transfer in 2013, Eickhoff did not appear in any of the Screaming Eagles’ first six games this season.
Not so much as a pinch hitter … not as a late-inning defensive replacement … not as a pinch runner. Nothing.
“It was a little discouraging at first,” Eickhoff admitted. “You know the time you’ve put in and being one of the few who hasn’t seen the field yet. But you keep your head level, your nose down and you keep working hard. Eventually, I found my way in the lineup and managed to have a couple of good games. It stuck.”
That it did. When Southern Indiana limped to a record of 2-4 in those first few games, head coach Tracy Archuleta began juggling his lineup in an attempt to find just the right mix. Finally, he gave Eickhoff a shot at second base in a February 28 game against Tiffin.
Eickoff, an Evansville native, went 1-for-2, was hit by a couple of pitches and tossed in two RBI for good measure. Eickhoff didn’t see action in the next game, but after that, a hit or two in his next few appearances were enough to convince Archuleta to stick him in the lineup for good.
“You hear the stories about how every year he was the guy who just barely made the team when he was in Little League,” Archuleta said. “In junior college, they redshirted him. At the end of his junior-college career, they talked to me and said, ‘He’d be a great kid as a backup guy.’
“That’s exactly what we needed. We took him, and to be honest this year, he was in the same role as a back-up. He sat the first six games. We gave him a start, and we haven’t been able to take him out of the lineup.”
Eickhoff hit .303 with 46 hits, nine doubles, 20 runs scored and was hit by pitches 16 times. Here in the NCAA Division II World Series, he took an “ohfer” at the plate in the Screaming Eagles’ victory over Tampa on Saturday, but made a sparkling defensive stop in the ninth inning.
He again went hitless against Lander on Monday, but was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded during Southern Indiana’s decisive four-run fourth inning. That’s as good a way as any to describe what Eickhoff’s contributions mean to the team.
Whatever it takes to get the job done, he’ll do.
“It’s about how he goes about his business,” Archuleta said. “Every day at practice, he’s the guy that’s helping out, first there. He gets his stuff done, he works really hard and then this year, I believe that he has taken pressure off himself, just played and not worried so much about each at-bat.
“Whatever his job is at that time, if it’s getting on base, he gets hit. If it’s driving in a run by hitting a ground ball, he hits the ground ball. He’s kind of the guy who keeps our team together because he does those little things for us. It’s helped a bunch.”
Eickhoff is a scrappy guy, a “grinder” as they say in baseball. A bruise from getting hit with a pitch here, a dirty uniform from a diving stop at second base there. That’s Caleb Eickhoff's game.
“You’re out there trying to prove something,” he concluded. “At the same time, you understand it’s a baseball game. You go out and try to do everything you can to contribute. If it works out for you, it does. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. As long as you know you’ve given everything you’ve got, you can go to sleep at night.”