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Nodzenski sets career HR record in three seasons

By David Kim

Who would’ve thought a 10-year-old little league all-star pitcher would turn out to be the starting catcher for the Grinnell baseball team and the school’s career home-run leader in just his third year?

Mike Nodzenski ’12 takes a cut in front of the left-field fence on Thursday afternoon. Nodzenski’s home run during Wednesday’s game against Simpson was estimated at around 525′ when it landed on the infield of the Duke Track. Photograph taken by Ben Brewer.

Mike Nodzenski ’12 surpassed Paden Roder ’10’s record of 23 career home runs against Monmouth last Saturday. He currently has 27 home runs in his career.

“I never focused on breaking the record,” he said. “I just thought that it would work itself out if I continually had good at bats and put good swings on the ball. [But] coming out of high school, I would not have anticipated ever being the career home-run leader at Grinnell.”

Nodzenski showed promise his first year, batting .347 with eight home runs in 32 games. The following season he bested that by hitting .403 with 11 homers in 33 games.  He won the Midwest Conference South Division Player of the Year both years. He also has the school record for most home runs in a game with three and most RBIs in a season with 53 his second year.

He credits his strong work ethic for his success.

“Whether it was weightlifting, throwing, hitting, running or working on defense, I consistently worked towards becoming a better baseball player my whole high school career and up to this point in my college career,” he said. “I’ve always thought that I’d only get out of baseball what I put into it, so I’ve put in quite a few hours over the years, and I think the work has really paid off.”

Given his outstanding work ethic, his record-breaking performance did not surprise teammate Matt Skelly ’12.

“Mike’s incredible discipline really shows when he’s at the plate, and I think beating the record was a result of that,” Skelly said. “He’s probably the most talented player Grinnell has ever had, but the consistency he has shown in his career thus far stems from his work ethic.”

Nodzenski remains modest despite accomplishing so much so early in his time at Grinnell.

“I think setting the school record in three years speaks more to the fact that I’ve been given the opportunity to start my first three seasons,” he said. “There have been other good power hitters at this school, but they may not have gotten as much playing time as me. I do think setting the record in three years speaks to maintaining a consistent approach every at bat, being able to handle failure, and being able to make quick adjustments at the plate.”

Head Coach Tim Hollibaugh sees Nodzenski as more than just a power hitter.

“He is a complete player who has worked hard to improve his skills,” Hollibaugh said. “He is focused and driven to be the best player he can be in all areas of the game.”

Growing up in Naperville, Ill., Nodzenski started playing baseball when he was five in youth leagues. He supports Chicago professional sports teams.

Nodzenski was already a star-in-the-making in high school. He batted .489 in his senior year and set the conference batting average career record. His long successful career and exceptional devotion to improve inspired other players to treat Nodzenski as a role model.

“Besides being a great baseball player, he really embodies what all the guys on the team want to be,” Matt Blumenreich ’13 said. “Mike leads by example and we all want to win and by working hard and executing, we put ourselves in the best position possible to achieve all of our goals.”

Nodzenski is also an excellent defensive catcher. He has only committed three errors in his career in Grinnell.

“He’s a really good student of the game,” Greg Suryn ’11 said. “He commands the field when he’s catching. Pitchers shouldn’t feel worried about balls going past him or about Mike calling the wrong pitch. He’s very mature in his approach to the game and he’s like a wall back there.”

Despite being an all-around catcher and a powerful hitter, he believes there’s still room for improvement.

“I want to be an aggressive hitter, but sometimes that negatively impacts my at-bats,” Nodzenski said. “Specifically, I think that I can hit any pitch, which leads to swinging at bad pitches. I consider that getting myself out rather than the pitcher getting me out, which is something I try to minimize.”

Nodzenski’s successful career has caught the eyes of professional scouts as well.

“Mike has received quite a bit of attention from professional baseball scouts and I believe he will drafted before his career is over,” Hollibaugh said. “I hope he is here next year but in his best interest, it is his decision.”

Nodzenski, however, is more concerned about the team finishing this season in the right direction.

“I’d be disappointed if we didn’t make it to the NCAA regional by the time I graduate,” he said. “We’ve become a team that consistently makes the conference tournament over the past three years, but we’ve yet to break through and win it. We definitely have the talent to do it, so hopefully we can do that this year.”

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