PAOLA — Not too many freshmen ever make the field for the Paola Panther varsity baseball team.
It is a tradition-rich program that competes for the Frontier League title year in and year out and has placed second and third in the Class 4A state baseball tournament with a trophy case of regional championship titles.
Freshman Caden Marcum did not just play for the Paola Panthers, he excelled.
Marcum started in right field and pitched. He began the season batting sixth in the lineup and quickly moved his way up in the order, finishing the season hitting third.
“I saw him in the batting cage for a couple of weeks and knew he was varsity ready,” Paola coach Tony Brummer said. “We started him out sixth in the order, and he just kept working his way up.”
No matter where he was in the lineup, Marcum delivered for the Paola Panthers.
“Hitting third is fun, but my approach doesn’t change,” Marcum said. “Every at bat, I am looking to drive the ball and put pressure on the defense.”
Marcum hit .450 and was on base nearly 60 percent of the time, making it important to move him up in the order, Brummer said.
“He hit over .400 as a freshman,” Brummer said. “We moved him to third in the order. I wanted to make sure he got to the plate in the first inning.”
He batted .450 for Paola with 27 base hits in 60 at bats. He had 10 doubles, drove in 17 runs and had 14 runs scored.
Marcum was selected the Tri-County Spotlight Baseball Player of the Year.
“I think it is a really great accomplishment, there is only one player each year, and for me to accomplish it means a lot,” Marcum said. “It was a lot of fun to play at the varsity level. I got to play with a lot of people I haven’t played with since I was 6. I got to become good friends with a lot of the older guys on the team. I’m thankful coach Brummer gave me an opportunity.
“I felt like I had a really good year, I was seeing the ball all year,” he said. “I’ve always been taught to play as hard as I can and more importantly to have fun playing. I know that I have to put in a lot of hard work to achieve my goals. I am only going to get out of it what I put into it, everything I do in practice or the extra work I put in outside of practice, has a purpose.”
Marcum was a weapon not only at the plate, but in the field, Brummer said.
“Defensively, he was fantastic in right field,” Brummer said. “He reads the ball so well off the bat and gets to a lot of balls.
“He has such a long reach,” Brummer said. “He was able to make a lot of plays for us.”
Marcum made 21 putouts with four assists in right field. He also turned a double play. He did not make a single error in 25 chances for a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. He had 10 extra-base hits and stole four bases.
“To me it is a lot of fun to take hits away from people or to be able to throw someone out trying to run on me,” Marcum said.
Playing in the outfield, one of the most important things is that first step as the ball comes off that bat, Marcum said.
“It’s very important to get a good read on the ball,” he said. “The first step is really important, especially playing right field where the ball can run away from you to the corner where you don’t have help.
“My arm lets me play a little deeper than most when the situations allow it,” Marcum said. “It’s always easier to come in hard than it is to go back. If I am able to come up and throw hard through my cut we can save a base, maybe save a run, keep a force play or a double play in order.”
Marcum was a team leader for the Paola Panthers, Brummer said.
“Caden is quiet, but as a freshman he led by his example,” Brummer said. “He is always ready to compete. He has a professional approach to everything he does.”