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The Neligh Senior Legion baseball team has had one of its best seasons in recent years. A big key to Neligh’s success has been its pitching, and Neligh’s secret weapon has not thrown a pitch in a game all season.
Assistant coach Boyd Batenhorst of Tilden has served as Neligh’s pitching coach for the last five seasons. Batenhorst was a former pitcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln during the ‘70s.
“A lot of these kids, especially the younger kids, throw really screwy and it’s really hard to change them once they’re that old,” Batenhorst said. “The older kids throw better and have better form. That’s what I help with, making sure they get their form and follow through. Most of them want to mess around and throw a curveball and then they can’t throw strikes. I try to help them be mentally tough and have confidence. If they screw up, or somebody else screws up, they can’t be thinking about that or get mad. They still have to do their job.”
Neligh coach Dan Murray said he is grateful for Batenhorst’s pitching expertise.
“Boyd has forgotten more about baseball than I will ever know,” Murray said. “He is the reason Beau (Murray) and Jayden (Arehart) are throwing so hard this year. We start the offseason in November, and Beau and Jayden have gained so much more speed this year. These kids need to listen to him more. He is great with kids and great for the kids.”
Batenhorst was heavily recruited out of high school, but his college career got off to a rocky start. Batenhorst started at Morehead State, in Kentucky, but transferred back to his home state for several reasons.
“Our assistant basketball coach went to Morehead and knew the baseball coach real well,” Batenhorst said. “Supposedly I was going to get a scholarship to go there. I was a pretty naive kid and I figured that’s what was going to happen. It didn’t, and by time I found out, it was too late. I thought I would go anyways because they had an assistant coach in the winter that was a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. I thought that was pretty neat. They had tryouts and there was one freshman kid better than me, and I was better than the rest of them, but they kept the rest of the scholarship people and not me. I wasn’t happy about that. So I transferred back.”
After having to sit out a year for transferring, Batenhorst once again had to watch from the sidelines after not making the travel squad his junior year.
He finally got his chance as a Husker in 1975 as a relief pitcher. The Blair native led the team in appearances with 20 games pitched.
Batenhorst earned a spot in University of Nebraska’s rotation his senior season and led the team with 12 games pitched.
“Starting was what I wanted to do,” he said. “All my life I had thrown full games. It was what I was used to and what I liked. I didn’t like sitting around the whole game, warming up, then not knowing if you’re going to go in or not and coming in with people usually on base. The funny part was I didn’t think I was all that good, but my stats and my record looked really good because we weren’t a really good team. If I came in relief, most always we were behind. If we lost, I didn’t get the loss because we were behind already. If we won, I got the win because I was in there.”
Although Batenhorst had a strong final two years in Lincoln, he knew it was time to start thinking about life after baseball.
“I knew I probably wouldn’t make it (to the pros),” he said. “There were some pitchers in the league that were really good and I don’t think they ever made it (to the majors). They were really good pitchers that threw harder than I did, but I never heard anything about them. When I was a kid, I threw way harder than anyone around here and I thought I would like to play pro. By college, I figured it wasn’t going to happen and I eased away as college went on, plus I was going to med school.”
The Nebraska graduate started helping with Tilden’s Pony team and the Neligh Legion coach took notice of Batenhorst and wanted him on his staff.
“I coached Ponys in Tilden forever and helped with the younger kids for a while,” Batenhorst said. “Then they didn’t have Ponys there anymore. I didn’t do anything for a little bit and then they (the Neligh coaches) wanted me to come up here and work with pitchers. You know how it goes, once you start you’re never done.”
“He enjoys it and loves the game,” Murray said. “He knows the game inside and out. He likes working with the kids and the kids that listen to him benefit a lot. He is good to be around.”
Batenhorst has helped numerous pitchers on the Neligh roster improve this season.
“He is pretty good and on us all the time,” Jayden Arehart said. “He tells us how to fix our swings to hit better and improve our pitching so we can save our arms and pick up some speed. He helps us learn different pitches and see what we are comfortable with. He’s pretty good.”
His teammate Beau Murray agreed.
“He has really helped with my accuracy, how to place the ball, how to shut batters down and increase my speed,” Beau Murray said. “Every practice they have me pitch and they give me advice every day. They tell me how to fix my throwing and help me out all the time. He knows a lot about baseball and is probably one of the most knowledgeable coaches around here. He’s a big help to the team.”
Batenhorst said not much has changed in the pitching realm since the right-hander took the field in the ‘70s, except for the amount of stress on pitch counts and rest needed for pitchers.
“When I was a kid, you could throw 12 innings every three days,” he said. “With pitch counts now, you could throw 45 pitches and that might be two innings and then you can’t throw for a whole day. You can nowhere near throw a full game. If you do, you’re shot for the tournament. That’s the biggest difference and it’s hard for these small towns to divide it out.”
Although Batenhorst has not pitched in a game since 1976, he still gets his pitching fix at practice.
“It is fun and I still like it,” he said. “I get to come out and throw at batting practice. I still enjoy that."