MARSHALL — It’s not easy to step in as a starting shortstop as a freshman.
Lex Reinke of the Mustangs did it. He’s one of three straight shortstops who have been four-year regulars.
“Ideally, you would like to bring them in and redshirt them,” SMSU coach Paul Blanchard said.
Reinke, a native of Shoreview, was put in a situation where he landed in the starting lineup.
The Mustangs recruited a shortstop from the junior college ranks in Montana. But, he only stayed in school one semester. He was homesick and eventually went to Montana State-Billings.
“He went back home after one semester,” Blanchard said. “That’s understandable. During finals week that fall, he told me he was transferring.
“That forced us to put Reinke at shortstop. I don’t think he was ready. I knew he would be at some point, but not right away.”
Initial plans called for Reinke to begin his career at second base and then move to shortstop.
“It’s tough to step in as a true freshman at short,” Blanchard said. “It can be done, but it’s not easy.”
At age 18, a freshman may not have the arm strength yet or the comprehension of all the plays involving the shortstop.
“There’s the play in the hole, having good footwork on the double play pivot, understanding the rotations on bunt coverages and sure doubles,” Blanchard said.
“There’s a lot to learn at the position. There’s a lot for a true freshman to think about in a game. You like him to have a year under his belt before putting him in that position.”
Reinke survived as a freshman, and he gradually became one of the premier shortstops in the conference.
He learned in his fourth game to charge the ball rather than wait for it. He was capable of making the routine and sensational plays.
He gained confidence year by year, and his game flourished.
Reinke has the “total package” for a shortstop.
“In Division II, there are very few shortstops that have it all: Agility, speed, arm strength,” Blanchard said.
Reinke fits in the mold of the two shortstops who played ahead of him: Mark Lickfelt (Hutchinson) and Brendan Rokke (Tracy).
The three shortstops — Lickfelt, Rokke, Reinke — were different, especially in their body types.
“Lickfelt was very efficient,” Blanchard said. “He didn’t possess the strongest arm so he had to be fundamentally sound. Rokke had the best arm. Reinke has the most agility.”
Lex Reinke has proven to be a special player, homering in the intrasquad game as a freshman. He’s been a leader, offensively and defensively.
He’s compiled batting averages of .338, .310, .372 and .321.
He’s played in the Northwoods League, which is sanctioned by the NCAA for collegiate players, during the summer of 2006.
The NWL uses wood bats, meaning there was an adjustment from aluminum bats, which college teams use.
“He picked up a thing or two,” Blanchard said.
Reinke played with middle infielders from the Division I level.
“It was a good experience for him, playing with guys at other levels,” Blanchard said. “Sharing ideas with those guys.”
“You are on the field — that’s where you have been so long,” Reinke said. “I felt comfortable after a little bit. You are just playing baseball.”
Reinke’s season was split between the Thunder Bay Border Cats and the LaCrosse Loggers.
“I learned a lot from watching other guys play,” Reinke said. “There were a lot of players coached by great coaches.
“It was great just seeing how they grew up to learn to play the game, how they approach the game. It was fun just watching them play — with the visuals. A lot of baseball players learn by visuals.”
Reinke wouldn’t trade that ‘06 summer for anything.
“It was a great experience, playing in front of a lot of people,” he said. “It was a great experience. There are things you can take from it. You can use those things to help others that you can teach about the game.”