Whenever Bald Eagle Area’s Ryan Dyke is in a slump, he calls his grandfather Shorty Stoner and asks him to meet at the batting cages.
Doug Dyke, his father, pitches while Stoner watches Ryan’s mechanics. Stoner can see if Ryan’s stride is too long or if he’s dropping his hands, but during most sessions, he tries to build his grandson’s confidence back up.
“Any time I call him, he’s willing to drop whatever he’s doing and meet me at the batting cage and help me pick out my flaws,” Ryan Dyke said.
This season, Dyke hasn’t needed to call his grandfather to inspect his swing as he’s hitting a team-high .493 in addition to pacing the Eagles with nine doubles, three home runs and 31 RBIs. He smashed a crucial three-run home run to help BEA keep its season alive in the district playoffs, and he managed the Eagles’ lone hit in their loss to Central in the district title game. The BEA senior third baseman has also been nearly flawless in the field, committing just one error this season.
Dyke will lead Bald Eagle Area (14-7) into its PIAA Class AA tournament opener against District 4 champion Loyalsock (19-5) on Monday at 4 p.m. at Bowman Field in Williamsport.
“He’s just been rock solid for us both offensively, defensively,” BEA coach Jim Gardner said. “He’s been a great player for the varsity level for three years. He’s meant a lot to the program, and we just love what he can do for us.”
Dyke has stayed hot at the plate all season.
But he had to overcome slumps in his first two seasons for the Eagles. That’s when he’d call Stoner, who served as Penn State’s baseball coach from 1981-90.
“That’s who he listens to,” said Doug Dyke, BEA’s athletic director. “You listen to your dad, but you really listen to your papa.”
They’d go to the cages at the Teener League field in Milesburg or to the high school.
Stoner would remind Dyke to try to hit line drives, stay patient and attack in favorable counts. He’d also help him with his mental approach.
“You try to build confidence,” Stoner said. “Hitting is partly mental. You’re trying to build that confidence and trying to keep the fundamentals in place to get the success you can, but you still can’t substitute talent. He’s got the talent and all you can do is try to prepare him to let that talent work for him.”
He’s put in work on his own during the winters, too.
“We’d just be sitting there watching basketball or whatever,” Doug Dyke said. “And all of the sudden, I’d here this pounding down in the basement.”
Dyke spent 30 to 45 minutes at a time working on his swing with his “Hit-A-Way.” By January, with the season approaching, he and his father went to the gym for some batting practice.
The preparation, at the batting cages and in the basement, has led to results this year.
Stoner says with a chuckle there haven’t been any calls from his grandson this year. Instead, the grandfather has enjoyed watching him make his share of diving plays at the hot corner and drill hit-after-hit this season.
Perhaps none was bigger than his three-run homer in a 6-5 win over Bellwood-Antis in the district semifinals.
Dyke had just committed his lone error to contribute to the Blue Devils’ three-run first inning. He failed to get a force out at third on a diving stop and made an errant throw to first to allow the third run to score.
But he erased the mistake when he lifted a shot over the left-center field fence at Doc Etters Field.
Doug Dyke, watching from behind the backstop, will never forget the look on his son’s face rounding the bases. Stoner, watching from the hill overlooking the field, estimates the ball traveled 385 feet.
Ryan Dyke describes the victory over the Blue Devils “the most fun I’ve ever had playing on a ball field.”
“Ryan walked around the house that night, he just couldn’t sit down,” Doug Dyke said. “He was just so pumped up. He knew the pressure was off because they were guaranteed Monday’s game. It was almost like the first hour he still couldn’t believe that they’d come back and won.”
Dyke has earned the respect of his opponents, too.
Going into the district championship, Central ace Mike Mock was well aware of BEA’s best hitter.
“My plan coming in was to hit my spots,” Mock said after the game. “The Dyke kid from that team, he’s dangerous, so I tried to stay away from him as much as possible, and he got to me the first inning.”
Dyke’s first-inning, RBI double proved to be the Eagle’s only hit in the loss.
From battling through slumps to his standout senior campaign, Dyke has become a confident and consistent threat in the middle of BEA’s lineup.
“I’ve just had to rely on people getting on in front of me and just stay focused and try to stay humble and do my job at the plate,” Dyke said. “And whatever happens, happens. It turned out it was a pretty good year.”
Follow Ryne Gery on Twitter @rgery