It started with two fly balls at Ohio Dominican.
Two well-tagged, hard-hit fly balls to deep left center field. Rockets.
And not only were they well-tagged and hard-hit, they were well-tagged and hard-hit to the deepest part of the ballpark — against the No. 1 unit in all of Division III, Berlin Hiland — in the Division III, Region 11 Finals.
The big moments, however, weren’t to be in 2017. Both fly balls died within 20 feet from the necessary home run distance. The chance to win a regional championship in 2017 had gone up and flown away as fast as the ball had left the bat of Wheelersburg’s Cole Dyer.
But while the chance to advance to Huntington Park was not to be, the fly balls, arguably, lit an undeniable, take-no-prisoners fire into Dyer’s heart.
And as a result, the fly balls that were part of the season-ending defeat are arguably the very fly balls that have helped Dyer post the remarkable season that the Pirates’ senior infielder has had in 2018 — and the very season that has helped the 6-2 senior obtain a collegiate baseball opportunity.
That opportunity officially came to fruition last Friday, when Dyer, who has belted 15 home runs for Wheelersburg in 2018, signed with the Rio Grande RedStorm baseball program at Wheelersburg High School in a signing ceremony that was held in front of friends and family.
For Dyer, the opportunity was one that he couldn’t keep from pulling the trigger on, especially after speaking with 17th-year head coach Brad Warnimont about the RedStorm’s baseball outfit.
“It definitely means a lot,” Dyer said. “It was a last minute deal where (Brad) Warnimont actually thought I had already signed, but came and watched me at Greenup County anyway and spoke with me. I informed him that I still hadn’t made my mind up yet, and he made good use of my time, got me on campus, and explained the program. I just couldn’t resist. It was Wheelersburg made over.”
As for Michael Estep, the veteran head coach of the Pirates believes that Dyer’s work with the Huntington Hounds’ travel baseball program, in addition to his work with Wheelersburg and his overall love for the game of baseball in general, have been key elements in his improvement as a baseball player.
“Cole made that commitment to go and do that last summer, and had a good summer,” Estep said. “He swung the bat really well. The other thing that I really like is the fact that he has worked on his defense at the corner spots there in the infield, and is pretty versatile there.”
Dyer, who has been a consistent figure in the middle of the order for the Pirates since his foray into the starting lineup, has been nothing short of outstanding this year. The senior’s torrid 15-homer pace has Dyer within two blasts from tying the school mark — but it’s been the manner in which Dyer has set his own tempo that has been so impressive.
Over the first eight games of the season by itself, Dyer clobbered nine home runs, and hasn’t looked back since as his 15-homer total would suggest. Included in that mark was a two-homer ballgame against West — where the infielder notched both of his home runs in a 10-run first inning — and a straightaway blast to center field against Chesapeake on Senior Night.
His work, however, hasn’t just been evident with the Pirates. Dyer, who played for the 17-and-under unit that the Hounds field, led Huntington in batting average (.383), on-base percentage (.482), and on-base-plus-slugging (1.035) and finished as the co-leader in doubles (six). The senior also finished second in slugging percentage, as well, with a .553 mark overall, and his OPS mark was the only one on the entire unit that was over 1.000.
“It’s not only the physical part, but the mental part has certainly changed for him, as well,” Estep said. “He’s a very confident hitter, and I believe that any great hitter, or anybody that is good at their craft on the offensive end, is going to tell you that your preparation has to fuel your performance. He goes about his business in batting practice and things of that nature, and ultimately, it has translated to a good outcome here over the last couple of years. I’m extremely proud of the work that he’s put in, and the year that’s he’s having.”
However, Dyer is not just a hitter — as proven by his work with the Hounds. In 91 defensive chances, the senior committed just three errors over the entire summer against competition from around the country, all while playing alongside fellow Wheelersburg teammates Trey Carter and Jalen Miller, along with Notre Dame’s CJ Corns, for the unit in the summer of 2017.
“Seeing the amount of offseason work I’ve put in over this past year come full circle is a blessing,” Dyer said. “I’m stoked to have been blessed enough by getting some balls up and out of the park. I take it one pitch at a time, but my teammates and I have more to prove than just a couple of home runs. We are ready and out for blood. As a leader on this team, I know that my troops will follow me into battle and not think twice. We are firing on all cylinders right now, and whoever runs into this crew will definitely have to play some top-notch baseball to get around us.”
However, it’s very clear that the 2-0 loss to Hiland is continuing to light the very flame that has motivated the senior throughout his monstrous 2018 campaign.
“After that game, I told myself that in 2018, there will be no field, no distance, and no pitcher that will keep me from hitting balls over the fence,” Dyer said. “(Michael) Estep pushed me as hard as he could, and I pushed myself as hard as I could this offseason to get stronger and make sure that in big moments, I can produce and turn moments like the ones at Ohio Dominican into our favor.”
If one were to ask Estep, however, he’d tell anybody that Dyer always had that ability in him.
“He’s been a very good two-way player,” Estep said. “I always told him in the early years that, as we were going through our strength and conditioning process, that he had a good base to work from. He has a little bit of a farm background anyway, and he’s farm strong. Whether or not he actually stepped foot in the weight room or not, he was always going to hit the ball very hard; it was just a matter of coming in and working hard in the weight room. I told him, ‘With having that base to work from already, you can improve your strength very, very quickly if you choose to do so.’ It has made a great difference for him this year.”
While Dyer’s individual transformation is special, his commitment to taking a backseat for his teammates when needed has also been something to behold as a Wheelersburg fan.
When Matt Marshall was asked to hit for Dyer in the fifth inning in order to allow the senior to obtain repetitions of his own in Wheelersburg’s 10-2 victory over Chesapeake in the Division III, Chillicothe II Sectional Finals, the senior not only didn’t bat an eye, but recalled the memory of Marshall playing — and later, turning a game-ending 5-4-3 double play — as his favorite memory of the final home game of his entire Wheelersburg career.
“What I loved most about (the Chesapeake game) was seeing Matt Marshall, who has been a backup for me for three years, getting out there and playing third base like it was his day job. Him and I have taken thousands upon thousands of groundballs together over the years and he never skips a beat. When Coach Estep came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Matt has third base this last inning,’ I was absolutely ecstatic. Then, to add to the moment, he goes out there with so much class and poise like he’s been there for the whole season, and puts the cherry on top by turning an absolutely flawless double play. I’ve never been more happy for one of my teammates. He deserved it so much.”
“I’m glad that he said it,” Estep said. “We try to teach guys to be unselfish and to teach guys to empower others, which is our team motto this year. We want to act in a fashion that makes people look at our program and say, ‘I want to be like those guys.’ In that moment, it does test you as a competitor, but having Matt, who comes to practice every day and prepares as if he’s going to play third base or wherever we would ask him to play every day, and is willing to hit in the cage and takes pitching sessions every day, is a great asset to our team, and the guys know that.”
And it’s that brotherhood and bond that Dyer will carry with him forever, no matter where his Rio Grande career, or his professional career in either baseball or his chosen line of work, will take him.
“These guys are my brothers,” Dyer said. “I’ve never been as close with a team as I have this year. Maybe it’s because I’m a senior and I’ve played with these guys more, but I know every one of those men have my back through it all, and they know I’ll lay it all on the line for them. They are my soldiers that I lead into battle every game, and they know that when we are in between the lines that it is all business. I couldn’t ask for a better crew.”
But that’s to be expected. After all, it is the Wheelersburg baseball program that we are talking about here.
“Wheelersburg baseball, in itself, has dominated,” Dyer said. “The program has consistently been a force in state tournaments in our division. The expectations are high coming into this program and if you do not produce enough, and meet the requirements to be a Pirate baseball player, then you will not play. It’s an honor playing under the coaches that we have. There’s tons of experience not only at the collegiate level, but at the major league level, that our coaches bring to the table. They know their stuff and know what it takes to win. As a player, you buy into the competitive system very easily. The drive to win is built into this program and will continue to be etched in this program for years to come.”