By Rubin E. Grant
Conner Eberhardt was just a toddler when he became interested in playing baseball.
His older brother Reece was playing the sport, and Eberthardt said, “I wanted to get out and try it. I was 2 or 3, about the time I could walk.”
When Reece got to high school, he had switched sports, playing soccer for Spain Park. But this time, Eberhardt didn’t follow in his older brother’s footsteps.
“I had fallen in love with baseball,” Eberhardt said.
He didn’t just fall in love with it, but he has excelled on the diamond for the Jaguars. A senior shortstop, Eberhardt is the catalyst atop the Spain Park batting order this season, a big change from the abbreviated 2020 season when he batted ninth.
With the graduation of Colton Ledbetter, who’s now at Samford, Spain Park coach Will Smith inserted the switch-hitting Eberhardt into the leadoff position this spring. He has turned into a natural in the spot, batting .298 (25 for 84), while leading the team in runs scored with 24 and stolen bases with 26. He also has five doubles, 11 runs batted in, 16 walks and 10 hits by pitches.
“I like the ability to put pressure on the defense, fighting to get on base any way I can, a bunt, a line drive, a walk or even getting hit by a pitch,” Eberhardt said. “I want to get on and let the other guys get me over and get me in.”
Smith said, “He’s having a good year. He’s our spark plug.”
Eberhardt also changed positions this season, moving from second base to shortstop.
“I wouldn’t say it’s too big a change,” Eberhardt said. “Last summer I played a lot of second base and shortstop on my travel ball team. I think I prefer shortstop. You have a little more control in the infield on popups and things like that.”
Being a leader is another role Eberhardt has been thrust into this season. Last year, the Jags had 12 seniors, including eight of their nine starting position players and three of their top four pitchers. They had a 13-4 record when the season ended in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a lot of new guys, a lot of young guys this year, so with me being one of the only players returning with experience, it put pressure on me to be a leader,” Eberhardt said. “I think I have handled it well.”
The 10th-ranked Jags entered this week with a 21-10 record and 3-1 mark in Class 7A, Area 6. Spain Park plays two crucial area games this week against top-ranked Hewitt-Trussville – Tuesday at home and Thursday on the road – with a playoff berth in the balance.
“It’s complicated,” Eberhardt said of the playoff scenario. “A lot of things can happen. I think we can get a split against Hewitt, but if we play good defense, get good pitching and get some timely hits, we have a chance to walk off the field with two wins.”
No matter what happens this week, Eberhardt’s baseball career will continue at the next level. He has signed with Transylvania University in Kentucky.
“I wanted a smaller school and I wanted to go experience something new,” Eberhardt said, explaining why he chose Transylvania. “When I went to visit, I fell in love with the campus and felt it was a good place for me to go.”