Jake Priddle loves baseball.
Most baseball players do, of course, but Priddle, whose solid frame and athletic ability would lend itself to success in just about any sport, has played baseball exclusively for years.
That work paid dividends last week, when Priddle’s two-run home run over the wall in left-center proved to be the difference in Manhattan High’s win over Lawrence to earn a trip to state today.
Priddle called it the top moment of a long high school career.
“That was awesome,” Priddle said. “That was a lot of the year’s frustration coming out on one pitch, so it was pretty cool to get one I could crank out.
“That’s definitely No. 1, I’ll never forget it.”
Priddle leads Manhattan into the state tournament, which began Thursday afternoon with a matchup against Olathe South. For the Indians, reaching the tournament in back-to-back years is a good way to cap a high-school career.
“It’s a really big deal,” Priddle said. “Being there once was awesome, but getting back again is a big deal for us and we’re definitely looking to go farther.”
Priddle’s career will effectively end in Lawrence this week, despite the opportunity to keep playing. A history of injury influenced his decision to go to Kansas State and work toward his ultimate goal of med school.
“My body has kind of worn down and I’ve been thinking about med school, so I think I’m going to jump into that,” he said. “I’m going to K-State next year, hanging up my cleats.”
Playing for years as a catcher did a number on Priddle’s knees, and most recently the senior has dealt with back issues. He kept playing baseball, though.
“That’s the sport I’ve always loved the most,” he said. “It wasn’t beating my body up as much at the time. That was part of the reason I quit football, but it’s still taken its toll over the last couple years.”
Manhattan coach Don Hess said Priddle is the kind of player he loves to coach.
“He’s the kind of guy you love to coach, and he’s the kind of guy you love to have as a teammate, because he’s going to give you everything he has, and that’s all we can really ask for,” Hess said. “Jake is steady, he’s a nice human being, a great ball player and it’s been a real blast. I’ve known him since middle school as a student. He just shows up everyday and does his best.”
Hess said he’s given his senior the option to not participate in some conditioning drills because of his nagging injuries, but Priddle always toughs it out.
“We knew coming in that he would be struggling physically because we had some offseason conditioning that he struggled with,” Hess said. “But anytime we’ve done any running and I’ve given him the opportunity to opt out, he’s just looked at me and said ‘I’m fine’. He’s never backed out of any of our workouts and that’s a testament to what kind of competitor he really is.”
With last year’s group a large contingent of seniors, this year has been a change of pace. Among everyday players, only Priddle, TJ Giller and Josh Klug are seniors. DJ Kordyak, Dustan Whipple and Caleb Gorman all have seen time this year, but mostly off the bench for a team with 12 juniors on the roster.
“Last year was a senior-heavy team, and a little different feel,” Priddle said. “It’s almost a little more special for us six to get in there and lead the team.”
While Giller is signed to continue playing for Emporia State next year, the rest of the group will likely see their competitive playing days come to an end this week. Priddle wants to end on a win.
“It’s huge to me and I want to go in and win it all,” he said. “It’d be awesome to come out and play our best and go away a winner.”