Honkers vs. Bismarck Baseball

Honkers shortstop Evan Berkey has the highest batting average of all shortstops in the Northwoods League, and manager Thomas Walker says he's one of the best-fielding shortstops he's seen during his three years in the league. Berkey is just 19 years old. 

Evan Berkey just completed his sophomore season as a starting middle infielder for the Cal State Bakersfield baseball team.

He spent last summer in the land of the midnight sun, playing in the Alaska Baseball League. Right now he's the primary shortstop for the Rochester Honkers.

He's just 19 years old. 

"I was 17 for the first half of my freshman year in college," Berkey said during a recent batting practice at Mayo Field.

Berkey, however, plays the game with a confidence that belies his youth -- and he came into this summer with a very specific, ambitous goal. 

"I want to make the All-Star team," he said. "Last year I was close to making the All-Star game in Alaska, so this year I want to get that done."

His numbers speak for themselves. Berkey has played in 25 games for the Honkers and is batting .343 with five doubles and a homer. Toss in eight walks against just 13 strikeouts in 108 at-bats and the Honkers have a prototypical leadoff hitter who should be in the starting lineup for the Northwoods League All-Star Game, which is July 16 in Waterloo.

Berkey admits that part of his success at the plate must be attributed to the home-run power of the guys hitting behind him, which means pitchers can't afford to nibble when he's in the batter's box. "I've mainly been hitting fastballs," he said. "I want to be on time with the fastball and react to off-speed."

While Berkey's offense is what's getting him noticed so far this summer, manager Thomas Walker says his defense has been spectacular.

"He's one of the best shortstops I've seen in this league," Walker said. "You can tell he's played a lot of high-level baseball in his lifetime, growing up in the youth circuit in southern California, and then at Cal State Bakersfield. He's a hard worker, he's a competitor, and I think he's just a baseball rat who loves playing the game."

Berkey played shortstop in his first college season, then moved over to second for his sophomore year, but his goal is to play shortstop for the rest of his baseball career.

"Even in Little League I usually played shortstop," he said. "I like being the leader of the infield. I'd like to think I have a cannon arm, and I like to use it, to do the backhand and make the jump throw, or maybe throw on the run."

Great infielders want the ball to be hit their way, and Berkey said the Honkers pitching staff has been an infielder's dream.

"Our guys throw a lot of strikes, which means there are going to be a lot of balls put in play," he said. "So as infielders, we have to be locked in and on our toes with every pitch. That helps us out, because it makes the game move faster. There's not a lot of standing around."

While the Honkers fell short in their quest for a first-half championship in the Great Plains West Division, Berkey said there's no reason Rochester can't contend for the big prize at the end of the season.

"I will be here until the end, and I believe we are the best team here," he said. "I've played on a lot of teams, but I'd have to say that the this team is really good, one of the best teams I've been on."

But win or lose, Berkey said this summer in Rochester has helped him grow as a person and as a baseball player. "I was a little young last year in Alaska, and this year I've learned to let things go," he said. "If I have a bad at-bat or make an error, Coach Walker just preaches at us to have fun and stay loose, and I've just taken that to heart."

Those are lessons that Berkey hopes will help him achieve his next big goal, which is to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft. While Berkey might not be on many draft boards just yet, Walker said he has made a habit of overachieving and surprising people.

"I knew he was a good player, but I think he's exceeding a lot of expectations this summer," he said. "You don't want to expect that of any player, but you're excited to see it happen, to see a guy meeting the high goals he's set for himself. He's a complete baseball player, and  that's what you're looking for in a shortstop." 

Not bad for a 19-year-old. 

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Outdoors & Sports Reporter

Eric is the Post Bulletin outdoors editor and also is a sports reporter and columnist. He has a master's degree in American literature from the University of Kentucky and began working at the Post Bulletin in 2000. He’s an avid hunter and angler.