As VanMeter reached the mound, McClain handed him the ball.
“Right man, right spot,” McClain said.
“I live for this,” VanMeter replied.
McClain shook his head slightly recalling the moment later. “That wasn't a joke,” McClain said. “It got me fired up. I knew he was sincere. I believed him.”
Many athletes claim to want the pressure, to want the ball and the game riding in their hands. “Some may even say they do, but they're just talking themselves into it,” McClain said.
VanMeter wanted the baseball. He wanted the pressure. He wanted the moment. He kept NorthWood off the board that day and pushed Norwell forward.
The fact VanMeter seized the moment, and more than few more along the way to Norwell's Class 3A state title, makes him The News-Sentinel's 2013 Baseball Player of the Year.
“Talk is cheap,” McClain said. “Backing it up and doing it is what matters. And he's a winner.”
The extent of VanMeter's drive, and his talent, was on display as he pitched the last 16 innings of Norwell's championship run, closing out the NorthWood game at regional, then throwing complete-game wins over defending state champ Western at semistate and top-ranked Jasper in the state championship game. VanMeter was so effective, McClain didn't even have to use Luke Hunter or Jonah Patten – aces in their own right who were a combined 13-0 on the season.
Today, VanMeter is a member of the San Diego Padres organization, with his pitching career in the rearview mirror. VanMeter was drafted in the fifth round as a shortstop, valued for his ultra-quick hands as a lefty at the plate and his strong arm and range in the field.
His skills are considerable, and he considers them both God-given and honed through hours and hours of work. Yet it might be that competitive drive, that need to be the man with the ball, which separated him from the pack.
Some of that zest is natural; some of it came through the coaching, pushing and constant support of parents, Greg and Amy. Those who know Greg VanMeter know how much he loves the game. He helped instill that – and the drive to win – in his son.
“Without that man, who knows where I would be today?” Josh VanMeter said. “He started me off. He was hard on me, he was always my coach and normally that father-son thing is the hardest thing to do.
“He never threatened me that I had to play baseball, it was always up to me,” he continued. “I always wanted to play. He was always there to support me, to push me, to make me better. He threw countless hours of BP (batting practice). Who knows how many swings I've taken over the last 15 years?”
The VanMeters were together through development league baseball, youth travel teams, the traditional trip to Cooperstown as 12-year-olds, on through success with the Summit City Sluggers. At Norwell, VanMeter was coached for three years by Kelby Weybright, the school's most successful baseball coach. His final year came under McClain, who became the first coach to lead two different schools to a state championship game.
McClain calls VanMeter the best player he's ever coached.
VanMeter, who also excelled as a point guard in basketball, helping the team to the state finals as a junior, points out that he learned the hard way how difficult the game of baseball can be.
It's been said many times, baseball is a game of failure.
“It took me awhile to learn that, I'm not going to lie,” VanMeter said. “It's astonishing a man in Major League Baseball can fail seven out of 10 times and be considered one of the greatest of all time.
“That was something that was hard for me to learn,” he continued. “I put pressure on myself to be perfect, and I learned in high school nobody is going to be perfect in baseball. It's a great game, but it's also a harsh game.”
While perfection is unachievable, VanMeter pursued it as vigorously as any prep athlete. The end of the NorthWood game – with the solo homer and striking out five of the last six batters – was among those times of near-perfection. His refuse-to-lose pitching against Western and Jasper stood out, too.
VanMeter finished 2013 with a .446 batting average, nine home runs, 14 doubles, 36 RBIs and 59 runs scored. He was 14-1 on the mound as Norwell won its third state title. His team's 33 wins were the second-most in school history to the 35-0 team in 2007 led by current Oakland A's pitcher Jarrod Parker. VanMeter's 14 wins topped the Norwell single-season record of 12 set by Parker.
This week, for the first time, VanMeter is on his own, away from his family, pursuing his baseball dream.
“It's a long season, you play almost every day,” VanMeter said. “But that's the great thing about it, too. You can be 0-for-3 one day and come back the next day and go 4-for-4. You have to love the game. You have to have a true passion for the game.”
As McClain would attest from that regional visit to the mound and more, when you see the baseball passion in VanMeter, you believe it.Jeff Cardenas, Bishop Luers
(.442 BA, 32 runs, 29 RBI, 11 doubles, 2 HR)
Tyler, Huth, Northrop
(6-2, 1.33 ERA, 77 K's)
Colin Brockhouse, Northrop
(.505 BA, 46 hits, 14 doubles, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 35 runs, .934 slugging pct.)
Zach McKinstry, North Side
(.595 BA, 44 hits, 8 doubles, 2 triples, 27 runs scored, .953 fielding pct.)
Brandon Phelps, Snider
(465 BA, 40 hits) (1.22 ERA)
Drue Tranquill, Carroll
(.403 BA, 4 HR, 21 runs, 19 RBI, 16 SB)
Luke Hunter, Norwell
(9-0, 1.90, 93 K's) (.393 BA, 2 HR, 6 doubles, 29 RBIs, 23 runs scored)
Josh VanMeter, Norwell
(14-1, 1.39, 121 K's) (.446, 9 HR, 59 runs scored, 36 RBI, 3 triples, 14 doubles)
Jordan Bickle, Columbia City
(.419 BA, 2 HR, 9 doubles, 3 triples, 39 RBI, 28 runs) (6-2, 3.81 ERA)
Dalton Combs, Adams Central
(.436 BA, 4 HR, 41 hits, 40 runs, 38 RBI, 14 stolen bases) (7-0, 2.67 ERA)
Cole Gerardot, Heritage
(.442 BA, 38 hits, 5 triples, 38 runs, 19 stolen bases)
Jackson Boyce, Leo
(.455, 45 hits, 35 runs, 28 RBI, 12 doubles, 5 triples, 30 stolen bases)
VanMeter in Norwell record bookCareer records:
Games played: 112 (fourth)
At bats: 347 (second)
Runs: 133 (third)
Stolen bases: 70 (third)
RBIs: 88 (eighth)
Doubles: 44 (first)
Home runs: 17 (sixth)
Walks: 72 (second)
Wins: 22 (third)
IP: 182 (sixth)
Strikeouts: 223 (fifth)
Hits: 53 (2011)
Doubles: 20 (2011)
Home runs: 9 (2013)
Walks: 41 (2013)
Pitching wins: 14 (2013)
* VanMeter finished with .467 career batting average, but Norwell batting average records are incomplete.
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