Nathan Haacker chased more than the Sycamore baseball all-time home run record.
The Spartans' senior catcher was in pursuit of a family dream. His father, Jim Haacker, set the school home run record as a senior at Larkin. The father-sun duo are baseball confidants. They've spent hours in the summer drilling fundamentals at catcher, a position they share.
When Nathan launched a seventh-inning two-run homer in the Spartans' sectional championship win over Rockford Boylan, he not only made school history with his 10th home run, but matched a family legacy. Jim Haacker had 10 home runs as a senior. For Nathan, matching his father's record made the feat even more special.
With imposing offensive statistics, an impenetrable defense that allowed only one passed ball all season and a powerful arm that shut down opposing running games, Nathan Haacker is the 2014 Daily Chronicle Baseball Player of the Year.
"My dad taught me everything I know about baseball," said Nathan, who also had 11 doubles, 35 RBIs and a .489 on-base percentage. "I love him. He was a catcher and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. It feels great to tie the Sycamore home run record with the same number of home runs my dad set the Larkin record with."
Because Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh was a catcher at Eastern Illinois, there is a premium placed on the position. The Spartans coach has a steadfast rule for catchers that Nathan, a Bradley recruit, found out about as a sophomore.
"Balls can't go to the backstop," Cavanaugh said. "As a sophomore, I told him he can't be a varsity catcher. Balls just can't get by a starting catcher on a team I coach. After that discussion I saw he committed to getting better on defense.
"He became a lock-down catcher. It's not easy to be a No. 3 hitter and have to handle the pitching staff. The last two years I never hesitated to call for a 1-2 breaking ball in the dirt because I knew he would block the pitch."
As an eighth-grader, Nathan was a pitcher with an 81 mph fastball. He took two years to transition into an all-conference catcher who blocked pitches in the dirt, framed ones that were borderline strikes and threw out would-be basestealers so frequently that opposing runners played station-to-station baseball.
Even though he tied the Sycamore home run record and led the Spartans to their first sectional title, there is room for improvement. At Bradley, Nathan again will be challenged. But this time it won't be to learn the nuances of catching. It instead will be by hard-throwing Division I pitchers.
It's an opportunity he relishes.
"All summer and fall I try to play against the best competition I can find," Haacker said. "I hate to hit off slow pitchers, and we faced some this year. I'm used to guys that throw in the 90s and it's hard to adjust. I know next year I've got to get stronger and I can't wait to get started."