Respect is usually given in casual doses in baseball. It came in bunches this spring to Jon Egan.
Egan entered his junior season at Cross Creek with 19 career home runs and 50 career runs batted in. Opponents decided that output needed to be stunted if they wanted to beat the Razorbacks this year.
So Egan became the area's version of Barry Bonds in 2004. The 6-foot-4, 206-pound catcher walked 27 times this season in 105 trips to the plate.
Most decided four balls and a free trip to first was better than four bases and at least one run on the Cross Creek scoreline.
"It was tough at times," said Egan, the 2004 Augusta Chronicle All-Area Public School Player of the Year. "You go out positive, trying to have a good game, and three or four times you get walked. It was a different year for me."
But no area player did more with less.
"I'd say at the most I saw about two pitches per game that I could drive or do something with," Egan said. "That's what it was like against Greenbrier. I remember two pitches that I could have knocked the cover off the ball."
The smart, albeit passive, play was to not think about putting one near the carport of Egan's kitchen.
"Then when you do get that pitch after the walks, it's like you weren't expecting it," Egan said. "It's like 'Hey, wake up I can swing the bat now.'"
Egan still hit .456 with six home runs and 32 RBI in a season dealing with more garbage than the New York City Sanitation Department. Those walks fueled an on-base percentage of .600.
"I felt all year if people wanted to go right at him with [filtered word]-eyed fastballs his numbers would have blown up," Cross Creek coach Bob Polewski said. "He hit .456, but a lot of those hits came on pitches that weren't strikes. We are talking about Jon having to extend his zone, sometimes considerably, because we needed him to take his cuts in situations where we didn't want him to take the walk down to first."
Egan remembered walking once his freshman year and four times during his sophomore season. He lost his "lethal weapon" tag playing summer baseball in Oklahoma earlier this month.
Egan, a member of Team Georgia, traveled to the prestigious Sun Belt Classic in Oklahoma. Being an unknown commodity was a good thing. He feasted on pitching within his power zone, slugging seven home runs in nine games. He earned Sun Belt Classic MVP honors against the best teams from eight states.
"It was a lot of fun again because what I love the most about this game is hitting and swinging the bat," Egan said.
"Nobody knew about me out there. They came right at me."
One area scout said if the 2005 draft was held today, the buzz around Egan's stock would make him a likely first-round pick. No position player from the Augusta area in recent memory can lay claim to being a first-round selection.
Egan, with that sort of aptitude against some of the best pitching prospects at his age level, is slugging in that direction. The opinion was validated with his selection to the AFLAC All-American baseball team earlier this week.
He was one of only 40 prep players nationwide chosen for the matchup at Cal Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md., which is a showcase event for the nation's top rising seniors. Ten players from the 2003 event were chosen in the first round of the June amateur draft.
Egan's recent forays include a home run at a regional talent showcase at Tropicana Field. The Cross Creek catcher crushed a no-doubter at the Major League home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with a wooden bat.
"It hit the top of the foul pole," Egan said. "That was a lot of fun. That ball just kept going and going and rising."
The same can be said for the flight of Egan's baseball career these days.
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com.
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