Phenom freshman Eric Lauer powers Flashes


Kent State Baseball

The cool breeze accompanying the 85-degree weather in Tucson, Ariz., makes it the perfect night for a baseball game. It’s Feb. 16, and the collegiate baseball season has just begun.

The crowd leaps to its feet and roars as the next batter approaches the plate, but Kent State relief pitcher and true freshman Eric Lauer hears and sees nothing. He is on an island all by himself.

Lauer, 18, is an Elyria native and a freshman business major at Kent State. He made his collegiate debut Feb. 15 in the fourth inning of a game against the University of Arizona.

He was called off the bench mid-inning with two runners on base. After one batter, the bases were loaded, and Flashes were desperate to close the door on the inning.

Once Lauer maintained his composure and realized what he must do, he guided Kent State out of the inning when he got Arizona’s next batter to hit into an inning-ending groundout.

From there, Lauer went on to pitch 2.2 innings of the game. He only surrendered one run, one hit and one walk in his first appearance in a blue and gold-clad Kent State uniform.

Lauer earned his first MAC East Pitcher of the Week and first career win for his performance in that game.

Although Lauer is new to Kent State’s team this season, he has already begun making a name for himself in the short time since graduating from Midview High School last June.  

But despite the attention he received for his first few performances, Lauer said he thinks of himself as an equal to his teammates.

“I try not to think about it,” Lauer said. “I try to think of myself as an equal to everybody else. I don’t like to put pressure on myself.”

And Lauer has had his fair share of experiences dealing with pressure. He first started playing baseball at the age of 4 and began pitching when he was 10 years old.

Lauer’s father, Rick, said Lauer has known he wanted to pursue baseball as a career since he was in middle school.

“When he was in seventh grade I think, one of his teachers told [his class] to write what they were going to be in five years, 10 years and don’t put anything unrealistic like an astronaut or a baseball player or a football player and he still wrote baseball player,” Rick said. “And the teacher said, ‘That’s not realistic, that’s a one-in-a-million shot’ and he said, ‘Well, I’m that one in a million.’”

Lauer was given the opportunity to go pro the summer before arriving at Kent State. The Texas Rangers drafted Lauer in the first round of the MLB draft. The Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays also attempted to give him a shot at the pros in later rounds, but Lauer declined all offers to pursue a college career.

“I don’t like skipping out on parts of my life,” he said. “I’ve always looked forward to college baseball.”

Originally, Lauer verbally committed to the University of Kentucky. He changed his mind and committed to Kent State after learning about Mike Birkbeck, Kent’s pitching coach.

Birkbeck is a former major league pitcher, and several Flashes pitchers have broken single-season or career pitching records under his guidance. Lauer’s main focus is on his pitching and knew Birkbeck could enhance his skills.

“I felt like if I went through him, not only would I have a good college career, but it gave me the best opportunity to move farther after college,” he said.

Although Birkbeck just started working with Lauer this season, Birkbeck has already nicknamed him “fi fi,” which is short for “phenom.”

After Duncan and Birkbeck saw what Lauer could do in his first relief outing against Arizona, they were immediately sold on Lauer and his abilities.

They decided to stretch the envelope and boost Lauer’s status to starter, and it is safe to say that they were not disappointed in the result of their decision.

It has now been almost three months since Lauer’s first career win at Arizona and first career start first against Coppin University, and Lauer is already a starter and one of Kent State’s top prospect pitchers.

He is 7-2 this season and has been lights out ever since taking on the starter role in late February. He currently maintains a 2.50 ERA.

Lauer gets the nod from Kent State Coach Jeff Duncan to start every Friday for his team. Weekend series are the most important games for Kent State during the regular season, and Duncan said he feels most comfortable having Lauer on the mound to kick off any weekend series on the right foot.

“As a coach, I feel real comfortable putting [Lauer] on the mound on a Friday night,” Duncan said. “He’s been really good all year.”

Lauer said the progress he has made this season is what drives him to pursue his dream of one day becoming a big-league pitcher.

“Just knowing that [the pros] could be possible someday helps,” Lauer said. “Yeah, sometimes practice and things suck, but it’s all a process. It weeds the weak ones out. You just have to keep going.”

If Lauer’s first year at Kent State so far and his entire baseball career have been any indications, Lauer has the ability, the drive and the passion to achieve a successful Major League Baseball career some day. After all, hearing his nickname “Phenom” blared over an MLB PA sound system in front of a capacity crowd already has a nice ring to it.

Contact Richard Mulhall at [email protected]. Contact Kelsey Leyva at [email protected].