HIBBING — In Little League, Jaiman Lamphere wanted to play two positions — pitcher and shortstop.
So much for the best laid plans of mice and men.
Lamphere’s actual calling was behind the plate as a catcher, and he’s made the most of the opportunity.
Lamphere has all of the skills it takes to be a signal caller — he blocks bad pitches, he throws runners out, and more importantly, he knows how to handle a pitching staff.
That has been a blessing for the Hibbing High School baseball team, and now, the Hibbing Community College baseball team as it begins play in the Region XIII Tournament in St. Cloud.
Cardinal coach Dave Bevacqua always had Lamphere on his radar, and he’s glad he landed him.
“I was like anybody else that watched that kid play,” Bevacqua said. “He’s fun to watch. You want a catcher who’s a leader, and that’s what he is. He takes charge of the field. He has no fear when it comes to throwing the ball.
“He doesn’t hesitate. He has nice quickness. He such a good receiver. He makes your pitchers better because he gets strikes. Even at the Major League level, they want catchers who can help their pitchers get strikes. That’s what Jaiman does for our staff.”
It all came about by accident.
“Nobody wanted to catch, so I became the catcher,” Lamphere said. “That started in my last year in Little League. I had no idea what it was going to take to be a catcher when I first played it, but I loved it once I played it for the first time.”
The position got more serious when Lamphere played on the VFW team under Chris and Tim Zubich.
“That’s when I started learning the mechanics of it,” Lamphere said. “I started to learn how the little things make a difference. I realized that there was a lot more to it.”
Those little things, like blocking balls in the dirt and throwing runners out, make a difference in a game.
“Non-baseball people don’t understand that,” Bevacqua said. “The coaches in our conference, that’s all they talk about is ‘You have the best catcher, by far, in the conference.’
“It’s just not how he throws the ball, but how he handles pitches, how he blocks the ball and his whole demeanor behind the plate. Coaches and people who have been around it understand that. The average fan doesn’t see that. That does get overlooked by the average person.”
Of course, there’s always consequences. Even though catchers wear masks, chest protectors and shin pads, there’s still a lot of pain involved with the position.
“Nobody wants to get in front of a ball traveling between 78 and 90 mph,” Lamphere said. “That’s something I worked on every single day. It’s mostly about putting the ball toward the plate. You kick your feet out, make your arms look big and in turn, that makes you look taller.
“You throw your body in front it and hope for the best.”
As for throwing out potential base stealers, Lamphere worked hours upon hours to get that instinct down.
“That was difficult as a little kid,” Lamphere said. “It’s throwing the ball quickly and accurately. It’s not an easy task to make a quick transfer to get the ball there, no matter how hard you throw it.”
Lamphere has become so adept at it that he’s thrown out 16 runners in 24 attempts this season. It’s certainly a nice weapon to have behind the plate.
“Teams in our conference would try it once and that was it,” Bevacqua said. “We’ve had teams that have seen him enough times, that they don’t even try to run on him, especially if our pitchers are doing a decent job of holding guys close.
“Teams don’t even attempt it.”
And that’s not even counting the number of runners he’s picked off by snapping throws to first, second and third, nabbing unsuspecting baserunners.
As far as Bevacqua is concerned, Lamphere has green light to throw whenever he wants.
“I’ve had catchers that do make me nervous throwing it around, but he’s not one of them,” Bevacqua said. “I’ve watched him through his high-school years, the confidence he has in doing that.
“Has he thrown a ball away here and there? Sure he has, but it’s not often. He’s hard on himself when he doesn’t make a perfect throw to a base. I have no hesitation for him to let it go.”
The ability to do that, however, takes a lot of communication between Lamphere and his infielders.
“I don’t want to send it out to right, center or left,” Lamphere said with a laugh. “I work with every infielder. We have signals that I’m going to come to them. They have to know it’s coming, so they give me a big target.”
Being able to pick runners off base is a huge asset in the grand scheme of the game.
“It’s unreal when you throw them out by a lot,” Lamphere said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I threw him out by that much.’ It feels good to back pick a kid. You make mistakes, but after some time, it becomes a natural thing to do.”
Lamphere does a remember a time when one throw got away from him.
“It was a play at third base,” Lamphere said. “He had a big lead, so I knew I could get him. I was so amped to get him that I caught the ball, got it in my hand and let it fly. It was about 10- to 20-feet high. I was like, ‘Good God.’”
That has never stopped Lamphere from taking chances. After all, it’s good for the team to have him so aggressive.
“You can take away scoring opportunities,” Lamphere said. “You have to keep runners short.”
After catching for seven or eight years, and taking the beating he has behind the plate, Lamphere thinks back and says he’s glad he chose catching as his main position.
“Honestly, I would have actually started a lot earlier than I did,” Lamphere said. “I would have had more development, but I liked the way it happened. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”