KALISPELL — Joe Schlegel may be the smallest player on the Kalispell Lakers, but he also may be making the biggest impact. His coach Ryan Malman says it's his mental approach to the game that the Lakers rely on, leaning on his presence and poise.
“It’s been a growing process for him the past three or four years. To go from being the kid that, the spot light was a little too big to embracing that spot light and those pressure situations, and see that as pleasure not pressure has been fun to watch,” said Malman.
“I try to be a leader mostly by example, so I push myself to be the best that I can be and follow everything that we are taught to a T and then kind of verbally I expect that from my teammates," Schlegel said. "I want my teammates to follow through with the same kind of thing, if I am going to push myself hard I am going to hold my teammates accountable. “
The difference in his play began on the field but the work began in his head. His confidence grew and the success followed. This season Schlegel has struck out a career-best 18 batters.
“Through that repetition and him committing to it 100 percent and getting experience and exposure in those situations has allowed him to gain that confidence and he sees this as his last year and his last opportunity and he’s going to leave it all out on the field for us,” Malman said.
“I have learned a lot about working as a team and being a leader sort of in a role where you can’t chastise your teammates and go around and make the same mistakes so it’s a lot to do with self accountability and expecting a lot from yourself," said Schlegel.
What drives him to continue to be accountable for himself is his love for competition.
"I love competition, I love to win more than anything. So competition drives me to A: push myself to be better. And B: be excited for those big moments," said Schelgel. "So when you got runners on second and third, 2 outs and you’re down by one, that's an exciting moment for me. That is not a pressure moment. I am excited to go out on field and have the chance to be the hero."