With the summer simmering along outside, Lonnie Kauppila is restless inside.
A ball, a mitt and a bat call him, just as they’ve done since he was but 5 years old. And without them, the summer is simply stumbling along.
“I’m pretty much in the dumps right now,” says Kauppila, who recently graduated from Burbank High and will shortly venture north to take the next step, and his next swing, at Stanford University.
Not long after wrapping up his stellar high school career in June, Kauppila underwent surgery for a torn labrum and it has left him with little to do other than ride a stationary bike and ???think of all the hours of baseball lost to the injury.
“I just don’t get bored of it,” says Kauppila of baseball. “There’s really no limit for baseball.”
Many believe Kauppila’s potential in baseball is rather limitless, as well.
Hence, he’s off to Stanford in the coming months. In June, he was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the Major League Basebal First-Year Player Draft and he turned in an All-CIF Southern Section and All-Pacific League senior season with a line of a .443 average, 35 runs, 22 runs batted in, 15 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases.
Most impressive about Kauppila, however, was his overall body of work, one in which he put on display with dynamic fielding prowess, the ability to hit for average and power and the speed and smarts on the bases to become a weapon there, as well.
It is for these attributes, accolades and talents that Kauppila, for a second consecutive year, was voted the 2010 All-Area Baseball Player of the Year by the sports editors and writers of the La Canada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.
“I definitely feel his best baseball’s ahead of him,” Burbank Coach Bob Hart says.
Lonnie Kauppila’s best high school season ended up being behind him.
He garnered All-Area Baseball Player of the Year recognition after his junior season with stellar numbers like a .508 average, 27 runs scored, 25 RBIs and 12 home runs.
“His numbers [during his senior season] were not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but largely, he had better numbers his junior year,” Hart says.
And Kauppila, often his own harshest critic, is quick to admit as much.
“I guess I was satisfied overall, but I know I could do better,” he says.
The most telling number was that Kauppila hit 12 home runs as a junior, but his roundtrip tally fell to just three as a senior. But the stats at the end of the season don’t tell the whole story. For that, one has to go to the beginning, the very first game of Burbank’s season, in fact.
The first game of the season, against Granada Hills, saw Kauppila draw three walks.
“Wow, this is really gonna happen,” says Kauppila of his thoughts during the course of that game.
Thus, after a junior year in which he walked 15 times, Kauppila walked 21 times as a senior. More telling, however, was that fastballs were few and far between when Kauppila was at the plate with a steady diet of off-speed pitches thrown his way throughout the season.
“Right away [it happened], the first game. It got frustrating right away,” says senior teammate Chase Mersola. “He still had the clutch at-bats, the clutch hits, the clutch RBIs. He really was good all-around.”
Therein lies the reasoning behind Kauppila’s senior season still being an outstanding one. Aside from his average and home run numbers, his other stats remained largely the same. In addition, his stolen bases went from nine to 21, and perhaps his greatest attribute, his fielding, was still at a pinnacle.
“His fielding always stands out,” Mersola says. “He makes the plays that a normal high school shortstop wouldn’t make.”
And, perhaps unlike your average high school ballplayer, Kauppila says his time in the field is what he enjoys most.
“It is a really important part of baseball to make the plays. It’s just natural for me, I really take pride in it,” Kauppila says. “I like fielding a lot more than hitting. I could stand out there for days and take ground balls. I don’t get bored with fielding.”
With baseball in general, it seems, but particularly with his fielding exploits, much of Kauppila’s talents are seen by many as natural.
“He’s got terrific hand-eye coordination, and just great instincts that are God-given,” Hart says.
But just as obvious to Hart and those around him is that Kauppila’s desire to excel at baseball has driven him to work toward becoming the player he is, and wants to be.
“He’s seriously competitive, he’s his own worst critic,” Hart says. “In practice, he would show that; sliding hard into second, running out a groundball that most wouldn’t. He gave that to me.”
Says Mersola: “He’s definitely gained all his talent with his hard work.”
For Kauppila, it doesn’t seem as if it’s all that much hard work, however. It seems as though the sport that has provided him with a scholarship to Stanford and saw him drafted by the Oakland Athletics is simply something that he loves to do most.
“Honestly, the last four years of high school, it’s really hit me how much baseball can be a lifestyle,” Kauppila says.
So as the summer burns away, Lonnie Kauppila grows restless to get back to doing what he enjoys most, which is playing baseball.
Ahead of him appears to be a future brimming with possibilities of prominence. Behind him, he leaves a high school career marked by the controversy of transferring from Crescenta Valley to Burbank, a string of All-Pacific League, All-CIF and All-Area accolades, four seasons of varsity success, playoff appearances and statistical distinction and, most notably, an array of talent on the baseball diamond that nobody, detractor or supporter alike, could argue.
“He’s got a great skill set,” Hart says. “I think he’s a very talented kid.”
A talented kid who began his high school days as a Falcon filled with potential and ended them as a Bulldog whose best days still seem to lie ahead.
“I think I’ll be set for next season,” says a healing Kauppila. “I’m just excited to get up there [to Stanford] and get this rolling.
“Being drafted was a dream to me. Now that I have a taste of it, I want the whole thing.”