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WHITING'S BAJDA ON THE BRINK OF HISTORY

Thursday, April 21, 2011 • POSTED BY:  Hillary Smith - Times Correspondent

Elliott Bajda sweet-talked his parents into letting him throw a tennis ball in the house. He pounded it off of wall after wall, standing back and catching it, then moving farther away and catching it again. He'd leave dents behind him that his parents are still patching up. The little game helped turn Bajda into Whiting's starting shortstop his freshman season. "When he came in, we didn't have anybody as good as him as far as the physical tools to get to the baseball, and his range and his arm," Oilers coach Kevin Lenz said. "It's always hard for me to take the best players out of their positions, and Elliott's best position is shortstop." His tennis-ball game has also helped make Bajda one of the best fielders in the state -- ever. If he remains on pace, Bajda could become No. 2 in career putouts among non-first basemen in the state record book, passing Angola's Kyle Dyger's total of 419. The No. 1 spot is held by Eric Bruntlett, who graduated from Lafayette Harrison in 1996 before becoming the first National League player to field a game-ending unassisted triple play while playing shortstop for the Phillies in 2009. Bruntlett made 530 putouts while at Harrison. Bajda made 63 putouts as a junior while posting a .921 fielding percentage. "First place is a long way off," Bajda said. "We knew going into my sophomore year we'd be on pace to be up there. "Out there, I just play. The ball comes to me and I throw it. If I look back on it, I think there's no way I'd have had that many outs. When the ball just comes to you, you make the play." His hitting is pretty good, too. Batting in the top third of the Oilers' order the last two seasons -- often as the leadoff man -- he's been a consistent .300-plus hitter. Bajda hit .322 as a sophomore and .323 as a junior. "More important than his hitting even is his on-base percentage," Lenz said. "He set a school record for walks last year, and that's huge being a leadoff hitter." On the heels of three straight sectional titles and a regional championship in Bajda's freshman season of 2008, the Oilers are finding out what happens to teams with targets on their backs. Whiting has had a 2-6 start to the season, which continues tonight when it takes on Griffith in the official opening of Oil City Stadium, the new park Whiting shares with Calumet College. "We haven't played well so far at home," Bajda said. "Other teams come in and they see that nice, beautiful field, and they want to beat us on that field. We haven't stepped up at home, but every game from now on, we're going to see teams' best hitters and best hitting. We want to defend our new field."