TERRE HAUTE —
Being a four-year starter in one of Indiana’s premier high school baseball programs was a long way from the highest goal Cody Gardner set for himself.
So the 2012 Terre Haute North graduate has continued to improve his skills and his talents in the approximately 13 months since he graduated, first at Wright State and this summer with the Terre Haute Rex.
On Wednesday night Gardner drew a walk and scored what proved to be the winning run on Will Colantono’s two-run single in Terre Haute’s 7-1 win at Quincy, then added a two-run triple the following inning as the Rex salvaged the finale of a three-game series.
It was a typical contribution this summer from the versatile Gardner, who was batting .265 going into Thursday’s game at Hannibal and who has seen action at second base and at both corner outfield spots.
A shortstop throughout most of his tenure at North, Gardner found playing time available at Wright State if he was willing to do different things, and he jumped at the chance.
“I was starting in left field at the start of the [college] season,” he explained earlier this week. “Then our second baseman got hurt, so I moved there for awhile in the middle of the season. In the conference tournament [Wright State lost the Horizon League championship game to Valparaiso] I was just the designated hitter.
“I couldn’t be happier with the amount of playing time I had, especially being a freshman.”
The offseason work he did at Wright State might have been just as valuable, Gardner agreed — that and maturing physically.
“We went through a major strength and conditioning program,” he explained. “Arm strength is a big thing, and mine’s gotten a lot stronger.”
That became evident quickly this summer. If Gardner’s arm was adequate as a high school shortstop, it’s now in the plus category; he saved an early game for the Rex by gunning down a runner at third base from right field, and he’s playing as often there — where a rifle arm is a necessity — as anywhere in recent games.
“He made one of the better throws I’ve seen this summer [in that game],” Rex manager Ronnie Prettyman recalled this week.
Gardner’s career with the Rex started somewhat serendipitously, he noted. He happened to be at a Rex game last season, shortly after he’d made his commitment to Wright State, and was doing a television interview about that commitment when Roland Shelton, then the Rex general manager, happened to walk by. Shelton suggested that Gardner should consider playing for the Rex in 2013, and he didn’t have to ask twice.
“There was no doubt I would love to come back and play for my hometown team,” Gardner said this week.
That was fine with Prettyman too, the manager said.
“We saw Cody around town and working out,” Prettyman noted, “so we had pretty high expectations. He’s really solid at second base and in the outfield. He’s making plays, and his at-bats have been really good at times.
“Hopefully he’ll continue to hit and keep our lineup turning over,” the manager continued, Wednesday night being a good example of that. “If he gets timely hits with guys on base, he’ll continue to get time at second and in the outfield.”
That’s all Gardner hopes for, he indicated this week.
“Getting a lot of playing time and developing as a player, that’s the biggest part of summer ball — that and having fun,” he said with a smile.
Gardner has no shortage of mentors when it comes to preparing for a long summer of baseball. Not only is the Rex coaching staff adept in that regard, but Gardner’s father John pitched four years in the minors, reaching the triple-A level in the Cubs’ organization, and his grandather Harlan Lautenschlager also spent some seasons in professional baseball.
“I’d definitely love to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of developing to do, but hopefully that’s in my future.”