During trips to church with his father every Sunday, with the same CD playing in the truck, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Keegan Soltis absorbs baseball knowledge.
Soltis and his father listen to Steve Springer’s “Quality At-Bats,” which focuses on the mental approach to hitting. Springer, who has worked for the Toronto Blue Jays as a performance coach and scout, stresses setting attainable goals such as hitting the ball hard rather than getting caught up in batting average.
Soltis keeps “Quality At-Bats” on his iPhone, and his father, Jimmy, has a version on a disc, so they can listen to it on the road.
“It’s starting to kick in, and he’s starting to understand the game from a different perspective,” Jimmy said.
Though Soltis is only a freshman for the Mounties, his father and his high school coach both praise his understanding of the game. Keegan studies the nuance of professional hitters and then applies it himself. That knowledge has complemented his ability well — Soltis was one of the P-O’s best hitters this season.
In the team’s first 17 games, he ranked second with a .326 batting average and led the team in home runs (3) and RBIs (14). He’s now preparing for his first postseason experience as the No. 4-seed Mounties host No. 5-seed West Shamokin at 4 p.m. Friday in their District 6 Class 3A opener.
Philipsburg-Osceola coach Doug Sankey didn’t know what to expect from Soltis going into the year. But it didn’t take long for the freshman to shake off his nerves — the CD told him every Sunday to relax — as he recorded a two-hit game against Penns Valley in the third game of the season. Once he found that confidence, Sankey said, he became a consistent threat with the bat.
His breakout game came against Clearfield on April 18.
“My mom’s from Clearfield and I feel like whenever I play Clearfield, I got to go all out and try my hardest,” Soltis said.
The freshman crushed two home runs to left-center field that day, leading the Mounties to a 9-6 win that snapped a three-game losing streak.
“They were beating us and he hit that home run, and I think that was a big momentum shift for us,” Sankey said. “That was a big turning point in that game against Clearfield. Looking back, that was a big game for us.”
Soltis remained productive in the second half of the season with his mature approach at the plate.Sankey said the freshman doesn’t chase bad pitches and rarely swings at the first pitch. If he does attack the first pitch, Sankey said it’s something he can drive.
He generates some of that power with his leg kick, so he likes to watch Toronto Blue Jays star Josh Donaldson hit with a similar style. Soltis said he reincorporated the leg kick after working with his Flood City Elite coach this past offseason. “Since I got it back, I feel like I’m more powerful,” Soltis said. He watches Kyle Schwarber, too, saying he likes to stay loose with his hands like the Chicago Cubs slugger.
His studies now include “Quality At-Bats,” as well.
His father tells him to listen to it on the bus rides to away games. Soltis said he’s learned to relax and take deep breaths through Steve Springer’s method. The lessons on the mental side of hitting mirror the books that the Soltises read — books like Jon Gordon’s “The Energy Bus” that focus on the power of positivity and overcoming adversity. Those ideas can also be applied to the diamond.
“Baseball is a game of failure,” Jimmy said. “If you look at it that way, it’s easy to get sucked into a trap of, ‘Hey, I’m 0 for 10 or I’m 2 for 15, I’m really struggling.’
“But if you look it as every pitch, every at-bat, every play is a new opportunity. It’s a way to keep yourself from getting sucked into a trap.”
Although he coached Keegan at various levels, Jimmy always felt he needed to give his son direction in certain situations. But he could only watch as a spectator this season — the first he wasn’t involved as a coach — as his son excelled at the varsity level after years of studying the game.
“He’s gotten to the point where he knows the game,” his father said. “He’s always trying to learn something new.”