The things to do list when visiting Lima, Ohio, might not be comparable to that of Las Vegas, New York City or Orlando. Visitors to the northwest Ohio city can find some unique spots though in the city historically known for smokestacks, blue-collar workers and the railroad industry.
Kyle Lewis, Mercer University’s center fielder, visited the city last summer. He didn’t come looking for the history of railroad cars or oil factories. Instead, he found the mindset and mechanics that helped him become the co-winner of the Gregg Olson Award for Breakout Player of the year. National Player of the Year Andrew Benintendi of Arkansas was the other co-winner.
In 2014 the Bears had a logjam in their outfield and Lewis’s playing time was sporadic, which wasn’t surprising considering he was a freshman. Senior Sasha Lagarde and junior Nate Moorhouse were in front of him, but he still found some playing time. The Snellville, Ga., native hit a respectable .281 in 89 plate appearances. With Lagarde graduating there was an opportunity for Lewis to earn a starting spot in the Bears outfield this season.
Mercer head coach Craig Gibson provided a path for Lewis to succeed. Gibson had a connection with the Lima Locos (short for Locomotives) a team in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. Gibson knew Locos coach Chad Ehrnsberger and after conversations with Ehrnsberger and Locos general manager Steve Meyer, Lewis was bound for Lima.
“Being away I had to figure things out on my own,” Lewis said. “That took some maturity. If I was back at Mercer and I had a bad game I would complain to my parents. Up there (at Lima) if I had a bad game, I had to figure it out myself.”
And being able to play every day made a difference for Lewis mentally.
“From day one all of the (Lima) coaches instilled confidence in me,” Lewis said. “They told me that I was are going to play center field and that I would be there regardless of how much I might struggle. They just kept throwing me back out there. That relaxed me so much.”
While squaring off against Grand Lake Mariners, Cincinnati Steam and Lake Erie Monarchs and other teams, Lewis approached single-season team records with 36 RBI and 52 hits. A slight adjustment at the plate seemed to make a world of difference.
“The coaches told me to move my hands more,” Lewis said. “I was too stiff; kind of standing still. I was getting beat on pitches that I would normally hit because of (being stiff). By suggesting to get loose, wiggle my hands, it really sped my hands up.”
Lewis hit .292 for the Locos and .373 average and 17 home runs he hit for Mercer this season. He was 10 RBI short of hitting for the Southern Conference triple crown. Lewis also led the SoCon in slugging percentage, .667, while posting 28 multi-hit games.
“I was pressing a lot last year, coming in trying to make an impression as a freshman,” Lewis said. “The summer was great. I always believed I capable of doing big things based on sheer confidence. After the first couple of weeks of the season I really started to settle in.”
And then Lewis broke out.