When Waterloo pitcher J.R. Steinel watches a major league baseball game these days, it's more than just for simple fun and entertainment.
"I think that could be me someday," he said.
And it could be.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior with a fastball in the low 90s is set to commit to Ohio State soon and, if things go right, the climb up the professional ranks might follow.
"That thought really excites me," said Steinel of playing professionally. "That gets you thinking, 'I could be pitching in Jacobs Field someday.' "
He's already well on his way to completing a stellar high school career with the Vikings. To date, Steinel is 2-0, which includes a no-hitter against LaBrae in a game that saw him strike out 12 of the 15 batters he faced in five innings.
In nine total innings thus far, Steinel has given up only two hits, no earned runs and has struck out 20. He has also done his share of damage at the plate, already belting two home runs this season.
"He's an overpowering fastball pitcher," said Waterloo coach Doug Mori, whose team is off to a 3-0 start after reaching the district championship game in the Division III postseason last year. "I can't remember when someone pulled the ball to left field off him. It just hasn't happened. Batters can't get the bat around on him to pull it like that. He just overpowers batters."
As a junior, Steinel went 6-3 with a 2.32 earned-run average and 91 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings, giving up just 28 runs and holding opponents to a .224 batting average.
He was nearly as impressive at the plate, hitting .373 and leading the team in triples (three) and home runs (two).
Of his three losses last season, two were narrow defeats to eventual Division IV state semifinalist Mogadore and the other came in a 5-3 loss in the district final to Elyria Catholic, another state semifinalist.
"J.R. has got a long, long history," said Mori. "He was pretty dominant when he broke into the PCL as a freshman."
Steinel is the latest in a line of standout Portage County League pitchers the last few years, including Windam's Jake Eye (Ohio University), and Crestwood's Chuck Crowder (Georgia Tech) and Greg Wiggers (signed to play at Xavier next fall). And like those two, there's no reason to think that Steinel's collegiate career _ and possibly beyond _ can't be successful as well.
"He's strong and he loves the game," said Mori. "I think he'll be competitive (at Ohio State). He's a pitcher, not just a thrower. He's got a good move to first base, he knows how to spot the ball, he does a lot of intelligent things."
Steinel credits much of his success to former Kent State pitching coach Dick Schoonover, who has privately tutored Steinel for several years.
"That's helped me immensely," said Steinel, who is carrying a 3.4 grade-point average this year and plans to enter Ohio State's renowned agriculture school. "I wouldn't be where I'm at now if it wasn't for that. I've been taught at a college level. He teaches me stuff that a lot of high school pitchers don't learn.
"He's basically fine-tuned my mechanics, how to get a couple extra miles per hour here and there. He's taught me a few different pitches _ he's done a lot for my pitches, especially my curveball."
Steinel baffles hitters in several ways. He uses his blazing fastball to set up his curve, he uses the curve to set up the fastball, or he can just blow his fastball past the hitters who can't catch up to it.
Mix that with a few other pitches in his repertoire and it makes for a rather difficult seven innings for Waterloo opponents when Steinel is on the mound.
Especially since senior catcher Jeremy Graening, who has committed verbally to play baseball at Akron, and Steinel are so familiar with each other.
"We've been playing together for about the last five years now," said Steinel, "so he pretty much knows me about as well as I do. Whatever he calls, I just listen to him. He knows what he's talking about."
So does Schoonover.
In his long tenure with the Golden Flashes Schoonover churned out several quality pitchers, some of whom pitch or have pitched in the major leagues, Dustin Hermanson and Travis Miller being among the most recent.
Steinel hopes to follow that same path.
"Schoonie says I should have a pretty decent shot at going somewhere (professionally)," said Steinel. "He says as long as I keep doing what I'm doing now and listen to him and my coaches, I should have a pretty promising future ahead of me."