As baseball continues to evolve and adapt to what feels to be an exponential progression of technology and pop culture, every so often there comes along a certain type of player who embodies the richest traditions and characteristics of the game. Whether it is the old-school look – the high pants and stirrups and the lack of batting gloves - or simply the overall hard-nosed toughness that radiates from Kramer Lindell, he is undoubtedly the epitome of what it means to be a ballplayer.
Considering Lindell has been playing for 17-plus years, the fact that baseball is ingrained in his DNA should come as no surprise.
Lindell remembers playing soccer growing up and a year of football in high school, but it is the summer baseball travel teams and early inspiration from his father that stand out the most from his athletic career.
“My Dad taught me a lot about the game, and he really sparked my love for it,” Lindell responded when asked about his role models. “Tom Niebergall was my coach through freshman year of high school, and he taught me a lot about the game and life as well,” Lindell said of his former coach of five years.
Needless to say, Lindell could not have had a better supporting cast along his journey to becoming a college all-star.
In two-and-a-half years in the Linfield program, Linfield’s centerfielder has developed into the catalyst of the Wildcats’ lineup and become a cornerstone of the program.
“Kramer hits for average and power in the middle of the order, and he really has the full package,” head coach Scott Brosius said, adding, “he is dangerous on the base paths, and he can impact the game in all areas on the field.”
Like many other Linfield athletes, the connection with the school was fostered long before Lindell began thinking about his college options. The 6-foot-1 junior attended West Linn High School, where he was coached by Linfield alumni Mike Lord and Kevin Mills. “I wanted to keep playing baseball wherever I could, and my outfield coach (Mills) suggested Linfield,” Lindell remembered.
“Kramer was a bit of a late bloomer, which put him at somewhat of a disadvantage in terms of recruiting,” Mills reflected about Lindell’s time in the Lions’ program. “I know Coach Brosius, so I called him, told him to get on (Lindell), and opened up the dialogue between them.”
While Lindell came into the program with every intention of being an outfielder, it wasn’t until his sophomore campaign that he began to show his full potential. “He struggled a bit as a freshman, as he was a part-time player and the expectations were relatively low,” Brosius said. “When he returned as a sophomore, you could see his confidence and how much he had developed.”
Lindell’s marked improvement between his first and second seasons is impressive for several reasons. Looking at the numbers, the fact that he hit a team second-best .318 while leading the team in home runs (seven) and falling one RBI short of former All-American Zach Boskovich’s 27 speaks volumes to Lindell’s adjustment to the college level. While no Wildcat will likely come close to topping the steal total of All-American Tim Wilson in a given year (20 in 2012), Lindell’s 11 in 2012 were the second most, and he handled 75-of-76 chances in the outfield. These figures not only reify Brosius’ claim that Lindell is a five-tool player, but also suggest that his instinct and work ethic are what separate him from others.
“I try to set a good example for the younger guys and show them the ropes,” said Lindell when asked about how he views his leadership role. “We have a pretty solid team all the way through, the talent is there, and these guys are going to progress into good players.”
“Players in the program recognize his toughness,” Brosius said about Lindell’s steady contribution day in and day out. “I think everyone draws on his quiet blue-collar attitude, and he goes about his business like he’s still trying to earn a spot on the roster.”
“Kramer comes to practice every day and works hard,” pitcher Chris Haddeland commented on Lindell’s lead-by-example mentality. “He’s been more selective as a hitter, he’s probably going to get stronger, and it’s scary how good he will be,” the right-hander added.
After being selected to the all-NWC first team as a sophomore, making the squad as a junior was the least of Lindell’s worries. Just as Lindell has excelled at adapting to the college game however, one of his biggest challenges relates to the conference’s ability to react to his success.
“You can catch a conference by surprise your first year, but after that the league knows who you are,” Brosius explained about the noticeable difference in how NWC pitchers are approaching Lindell in 2013. “They are pitching him different, but he is learning to be more selective, take his walks, and understand his approach at the plate.”
Lindell has started all 15 games in center field for the ‘Cats this season, and is among the team leaders in nearly every offensive category. His team-high .500 on base percentage complements his impressive .412 batting average, 10 RBI and five stolen bases. Fellow starting outfielders Nick Fisher (23) and Jake Wylie (nine), add their putout totals with Lindell’s 28 for a total of 60-of-61 chances, and an impressive .984 fielding percentage.
“We are very comfortable with each other and we have great chemistry,” Lindell said of his roommate Fisher and fellow junior standout Wylie. The core of outfielders has undoubtedly done the bulk of the lifting offensively in 2013; Fisher, Lindell, and Wylie are the top three hitters, respectively, of players who have at least 45 at-bats. The same three have also driven in nearly half of Linfield’s runs (37-of-83), have hit six home runs, and have not grounded into a single double play.
While the rest of Linfield’s lineup builds itself around the punch provided by the potent bats of the outfield, the benefits of increased run production carry over to the mound as well. “It’s nice to have run support in the lineup, whether they are hitting home runs or getting on base and stealing bags,” Haddeland said. Lindell’s defense does nothing less than provide reassurance for pitchers as well, as Haddeland said, “I never worry that balls hit to center won’t be caught, and (Kramer) is the most solid outfielder in our lineup.”
Fifteenth-ranked Linfield started the season on fire, winning 10 consecutive games after dropping its first contest of 2013. Currently, the Wildcats sit in a tie for second in the NWC with a record of 12-3 overall and 5-1 in conference play. While the team has enjoyed success so far, the ‘Cats look to avoid a similar pattern that ended in disaster in 2012.
After sweeping the opening NWC series from Lewis & Clark and holding a national ranking as high as second, the ‘Cats appeared to be on the fast track to avenge 2011’s loss to Chapman in the regional championship game. Linfield suffered a midseason collapse, however, culminating in a heartbreaking sweep at the hands of George Fox in the final NWC series that ultimately shattered the Wildcats’ hopes of participating in the regional tournament.
To make matters worse, Linfield had a front-row ticket to the postseason action, as McMinnville was tabbed as a regional site.
“Last year we were ready for (regionals) and we were excited to be hosting it,” Lindell said. “To be told that we were done and not even get the chance to play for it was really tough, and we are definitely carrying that memory with us this year.”
A return to the top of the conference and to postseason play is well within reach, and the belief and will power is strong throughout the entire roster. “I am very confident in this team,” Lindell said. “I was telling Nick (Fisher) the other day that this is probably the best, most thorough team I’ve ever been on.”
Lindell is majoring in physics, and admits that the academic workload combined with his dedication to baseball tries his time management skills. “Physics is not the easiest major to do with baseball,” Lindell said, adding that he hasn’t given a ton of thought as to what career path he might venture towards after his graduation in 2014.
While the future remains to be determined, Mills, Lindell’s high school coach, has nothing but bright expectations for his former player. “Kramer is a very driven young individual who strives to be successful in baseball and in academics, and he truly has a passion for the game,” Mills said, adding, “I know he will reach something that is great for him.”
Trends in baseball will come and go as the latest and greatest equipment and analytic technology seek to steal the limelight of America’s pastime. Some will play because they have the talent and others will play for the fame and recognition.
But as long as players like Kramer Lindell continue to play because it makes them who they are, there is hope that the pillars that make baseball the great tradition it is will continue to stand strong and tall.
-- Evan O'Kelly '13