Kennewick's Stemp owns tools to succeed at next level

Tri-City HeraldMay 4, 2012 

— Trek Stemp — even the name shouts, “great shortstop.”

His play, of course, speaks for itself.

People have used a lot of words to describe Kennewick’s senior standout.

Dangerous hitter — check.

He has a career .504 batting average in his four years in Kennewick’s lineup, three hitting leadoff and this season in the three hole. His 53 extra-base hits in the last three seasons make him the last guy opposing pitchers want to face with runners on — or off, for that matter.

Run-scoring machine — check.

Along with driving in 87 runs in his career, he has scored 112, thanks in no small part to 55 career steals — 27 of those this season as he chases the team record of 30. Stemp is in scoring position the second he reaches first.

Deft fielder — check.

A four-year starter at shortstop — Lions coach A.J. Marquardt said it would be five if he could have played as an eighth-grader — Stemp has drawn more “don’t hit it to him” reactions from opposing parents than any player around, whether he’s ranging up the middle or catching up to a dying fly ball in none-too-shallow foul territory. He has just four errors committed over the last two seasons.

Good kid ... quiet leader ... dugout funny guy who does dead-on impersonations of his teammates and coaches.

Check, check and check-a-roo.

Stemp — whose name was inspired by another talented Kennewick player, Trek Davis — makes baseball look easy, so you would never think “lacks confidence” is another apt description.

But there it is ... or was.

Make no mistake — Stemp is fully aware of his ability to play ball and to dominate games at the plate, on the bases or in the field. Lifelong success among your peers — who themselves are pretty good at this game — breeds confidence.

But it wasn’t until his performance last August at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., among 240 of the nation’s top high school players, that Stemp began to understand just how far his talents might take him.

“People throughout my high school career have asked me if I’m pretty good,” he said, “and I would be like: ‘Yeah, but it’s not up to me. Ask other people.’ But that’s why I went to the Area Codes, to compete with those guys. And I was, ‘Whoa, maybe I am good enough to compete with these guys.’ ”

Despite his relatively small stature — 5-foot-10 in a world of 6-footers — Stemp hit .400 at the prestigious event, tying for seventh among all hitters. He also was named to the All-Area Code Games Team.

“It was cool to get to see the best pitchers in the entire country,” he said. “Everybody there was super, super good — the best player from every high school in the country.”

It was Stemp’s first time at an elite camp. But a youth spent playing on teams that went to the Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth world series, of playing high school ball against Division I talent, was perfect preparation.

Still, he said, he was unsure how he would perform.

“They throw 90-plus with an 85 mph curve,” he said. “One guy I faced there, Lucas Giolito, he was supposed to be the No. 1 guy in the draft until he got hurt. You can’t even see the ball.”

What was the plan of attack against that?

“I was going to kind of guess it would be a fastball,” he said. “It was a real eye-opener to see all that talent around. Once I was out there, it was good to see that I could compete.”

He called it a confidence booster, and he began to see why folks were making a fuss about him.

“Whatever he needs, he gets,” Southridge coach Tim Sanders said. “Everyone questioned his arm when he was young, and the next year, it was like effortless. Everything for him looks effortless. It’s like, ‘Ho-hum, he gets the out.’ But he made a play on his (butt) against us last year, and it was, ‘How in the heck did he do that?’ ”

Indeed, while Stemp’s offensive numbers raise eyebrows, it’s his defensive plays that bring oohs and ahhs.

“His defense is just amazing,” said Kennewick first baseman Jarod Gonzales, a three-year starter. “The stuff he does, how he gets to a ball deep in the hole, makes a rocket throw perfectly on line and gets the guy out by a mile.”

Marquardt said the coaches and players have seen Stemp make so many plays like that in practice that even the best have become routine.

“We were talking the other day, what a luxury it’s been having four years of him playing shortstop for us,” Marquardt said. “We’ve been pretty spoiled.”

So what’s the secret to becoming a great infielder?

“A big thing that helps playing infield — it may sound weird — pingpong,” Stemp said. “Me and my friends play a lot of pingpong. A big part of pingpong is hand-eye coordination. That ball comes at you so fast.”

He and A.J. Hoskins, Hanford’s starting shortstop for the last three seasons, have had some rousing games over the years, and Hoskins also is among the area’s best.

In fact, it’s tough to find many critics of Stemp, even among opponents.

“We’ve always had a friendly competition between us,” said Southridge third baseman Matt Mendenhall, a teammate of Stemp’s on those world series teams as well as in American Legion. “It’s fun playing next to each other. We were always the top dogs on our teams, and we’re battling each other for best batting average, most home runs or doubles. But it’s friendly.”

Hope so, as the two plan to be roommates next year at Washington State, where both have signed to play ball.

Of course, that is assuming Stemp plays college ball at all.

Recently, he learned that he was considered among the top 200 prospects for the Major League Baseball draft June 4-6.

If that holds true, Stemp figures to be selected on the first day in the first six rounds, with a possible six-figure signing bonus — or more.

He said he is pretty good at not letting his mind drift to what could happen next month. Still, it is hard not to think about it a little when a lifelong dream could be around the corner.

“It’s kind of surreal. If I do get drafted, if I do decide to play, you have to look at a money offer,” he said. “I could get more money than all my brothers make in their entire life in one day, just by signing a piece of paper.”

But Stemp makes no bones about it — his focus isn’t on what will happen a month from now or what uniform he will wear next season. It’s on the one he’s wearing now, the same No. 2 he has had for four seasons.

“I try not to let my mind wander too much about it, in case I get too excited about it and then not get picked,” he said. “But it’s about high school right now.”

And high school ball means the district playoffs Saturday at Kennewick’s Roy Johnson Field. A win, and Stemp and his teammates will continue on. A loss, and the season is over, his career as a Lion finished.

But at the end of the day, for Stemp, it’s about what it’s always been — baseball.

“I like how one person can turn a game around,” he said. “In a clutch situation, it’s you and the pitcher and nobody else. It’s you and him.

“They say the hardest thing to do in any sport is be able to hit a baseball. In the past four years playing at Kennewick, I’ve been pretty successful — I think I can say that without bragging — I’ve been pretty successful hitting the past four years. And it’s a cool feeling to know I’ve been successful at the hardest thing to do in sports.

“Obviously, it’s been fun for me.”

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