FORT WAYNE – As Josh VanMeter circled the bases Monday in Bowling Green, he instantly recognized all the significant aspects to that one big swing.
His three-run homer in the seventh inning put the TinCaps on top 3-0 in a game they won 4-0 to clinch a spot in the Midwest League playoffs.
And his defining moment probably resonated with friends and family back in Ossian as it capped an up-and-down season for the TinCaps’ home-grown talent.
It felt great, said VanMeter, who hit .254 with three homers and 39 RBI.
Not overwhelming numbers, but for a 19-year-old infielder, they didn’t have to be. And key long ball or not, TinCaps manager Michael Collins declared VanMeter’s first full professional season a success because of the progression over time.
VanMeter stumbled badly out of the gates, hitting .197 over the first six weeks. From the beginning of June until the end of the year, he hit .288 in 69 games.
I was going to have to learn how to deal with failure, he said. Looking back on it, I’m glad it happened now rather than later in my career.
Collins said being the hometown kid and getting extra media attention made VanMeter’s life difficult.
Definitely a learning experience for him, Collins said. Early struggles obviously put him on the back foot. I’m sure he started to question himself, put more pressure on himself than was necessary.
In mid-May, Collins dropped VanMeter from the top of the order to the bottom, and that seemed to help.
Plus, VanMeter worked with hitting coach Morgan Burkhart on allowing the ball to travel in the strike zone before starting his swing.
In the second half, I’ve been seeing the ball a lot better because I’m staying back and using my hands, VanMeter said. I’m not worrying about lifting the ball. Those are the biggest differences for me.
Randy Smith, San Diego Padres vice president of player development, said VanMeter’s year met the organization’s general expectation. He said VanMeter did just enough in the first half to avoid a demotion to short-season Eugene and force Padres brass to leave him in Fort Wayne.
He’s had a nice second half, Smith said. He’s had to play multiple positions, which is good for his development. You have got to give him a lot of credit for not caving in during what could have been a really tough year for him.
VanMeter said he came to feel like he belongs in the low-A Midwest League, but his goal remains to start next year at high-A Lake Elsinore.
He plans to spend the winter adding weight to his 165-pound frame, earning extra money and helping out the baseball coaches at Norwell, his alma mater.
In the end, he’s done a great job, Collins said. Pretty much the whole second half he had much better at-bats.
Adversity is going to happen to everyone at some point. Anytime you can come out on the other side, you’re better for it.