CRYSTAL LAKE – The trip to play baseball in Florida was supposed to be enjoyable for Bryan Klendworth.
He was miserable when he returned home after reaching base only twice for Cangelosi Baseball in the World Wood Bat Association World Championships. Most of his at-bats ended with strikeouts.
The Prairie Ridge senior’s mind was clogged with questions. His hitting coach, Scott Martini, offered some tough love, suggesting that maybe the lessons were a waste of time if Klendworth could not develop a better mental approach.
Somewhere, in that funk, Klendworth had an epiphany. He implored Martini to let him stay on and channeled his angst to something constructive. He would work harder, but mainly he would work better.
Klendworth worked out at the McHenry Hurricanes’ facility for the next four months. Martini estimates Klendworth took 20,000 swings – about 300 swings a night, four nights a week. The results have been evident – Klendworth is hitting .595 with 22 extra-base hits and has struck out only six times.
Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro marvels at Klendworth’s level of consistency.
“I’ve never seen a kid as locked in as he has been the entire season,” Pecoraro said. “We’ve had kids who have gone on streaks, two- and three-week streaks, and you just couldn’t get them out. Bryan has been locked in since Day 1 and he hasn’t hit many balls soft.”
Prairie Ridge’s leadoff man also tops the team with 38 RBIs and has16 stolen bases. He has seven doubles, six triples and eight home runs and has scored 39 runs. And this from a player who was a part-time starter a year ago and occasionally struggled to put the ball in play.
“During August, I didn’t have much motivation to actually do anything,” said Klendworth, who is signed to play at NAIA Olivet Nazarene on a baseball scholarship. “I was practicing, but not practicing the right way. I struggled all fall, and when we went to Jupiter, Florida, [with Cangelosi Baseball], it was rough. I kind of made that my motivation, because I knew I could play with those guys down there.”
Klendworth went to the Hurricanes’ facility four nights a week. He soaked up everything he could from Martini and his son Nick, a Class A outfielder with St. Louis who played center field on Prairie Ridge’s 2008 Class 4A state champion.
“Any word that came out of [Nick’s] mouth, I listened to,” Klendworth said. “I learned a lot from him.”
In those three-hour sessions, Klendworth would take 300 swings. They came in combinations of tee, live pitching, hitting drills and the Iron Mike (a pitching machine). Klendworth, who is 6-foot-1, also gained 20 pounds through his time in the weight room.
“I learned how your body’s supposed to feel when you’re up there at bat,” Klendworth said. “What’s supposed to feel right and what’s supposed to feel wrong.”
Eventually, Klendworth knew things so well he was offering instruction to Scott Martini’s 15-year-old players. He was getting it.
“That’s the beautiful part of it,” Scott said. “He coached them. That’s how you become better.”
Martini was impressed with what he saw from Klendworth toward the end of the four months.
“We had him hitting Iron Mike’s, this pitching machine, throwing 74 mph, and moved him up to 35 feet away,” Martini said. “It was the equivalent of 95 mph fastballs and he didn’t miss one. He was hammering balls, squaring them up.”
At that time, Martini told Klendworth he was going to hit a minimum of 10 home runs and be an all-state player this season. Klendworth took off at the start of the season and has not slowed down.
“A lot of people are coming out here and it’s, ‘Wow, who’s this guy?’ ” said Prairie Ridge center fielder Jordan Getzelman, who will play at Missouri. “If you’ve been with Bryan at all, you know it’s no surprise that all this work is paying off. The most remarkable part of it is he had to deal with the failure first in order to reach the success. He worked his butt off all winter.”
Klendworth is producing one of the best seasons in Prairie Ridge history, which is saying something considering players such as Nick Martini, Getzelman, Kyle Cherney, T.J. Swank and others who have come through the program.
Scott Martini said Klendworth has some of the quickest hands he ever has seen. Pecoraro sees no wasted motion and an aggressive mindset.
“My confidence is through the roof right now,” Klendworth said. “Now I know the kind of work I’m supposed to put in.”
Pecoraro and Martini both have contacted NCAA Division I coaches about Klendworth.
“There’s no reason he shouldn’t get some higher opportunities,” Pecoraro said. “He can run, he can throw, he can hit, and hit with some pop, he can play defense. He has all the tools you’re looking for. I hate to see a kid not get that Division I chance.”
Klendworth is open to late offers if any should materialize.
“I would definitely consider it,” Klendworth said. “I’ll see what my options are. I’ll wait and see how it plays out. I’m just trying to come out here and do what I do best. I’m trying to have fun with all of this, trying to have a good time playing with Prairie Ridge.”