Brendan Summerhill remembers when he figured out he could be pretty good at baseball.
The Young senior started with the sport as a 4-year-old at Hamlin Park and also played hockey until high school.
The breakthrough moment came when Summerhill was 13.
”That was the first season where I got bigger, taller, stronger,” he said, ”the one when I started to hit the ball over the fence. That, to me, was really fun. Hitting the ball over the fence was like nothing I’d done before.”
That feeling carried over to his high school years.
”I was like, ‘Dang, I’ve got a chance to be real, real good,’ and kept working,” he said.
Now Summerhill is one of the best players in the state, a tall, speedy center fielder committed to Arizona and in the mix to be selected in the MLB draft this year.
Genetics probably have something to do with it. Summerhill has grown into a 6-3, 200-pounder, and his dad, Mike, played baseball at Ohio State.
”He’s a complete package,” said Young coach Chris Cassidy, who is in his 28th season. ”He runs, he throws hard, he goes 110%. He’s the hardest-hitting outfielder I’ve ever had.
”I’ve had guys who run a little bit faster, had some pitchers who threw a little bit harder, had some guys that I’ve seen hit the ball farther. But I’ve never seen one kid do all of that.”
Summerhill isn’t elite simply because he’s bigger and stronger than most high school players.
”He is driven,” Cassidy said. ”He outworked everybody in the weight room, on the field, in his off time. It’s all baseball. My goal with him is to make sure he knows that there are other things out there.”
That said, Summerhill’s passion has helped him navigate a few challenges through the years.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times
For most of his career, he was a catcher. But a thumb injury before high school had travel-ball coaches moving him around the field.
”He came back after COVID so much faster that we couldn’t put him back behind the plate,” Cassidy said. ”He’s still the best catcher in our program, but we just can’t use him back there. He’s too essential to us in the outfield.”
”At first, it was weird,” Summerhill said of moving to center. ”When you watch big-league outfielders, it always looks like they get to the ball so easy. But, you know, they’ve been doing it for a long time.
”I would coast to the ball, [and] it would drop. It was a tough transition for a little bit, but then I got the hang of it.”
Lindblom coach Matt Fidati saw that firsthand.
”He is the real deal,” Fidati said. ”He made a play against us in right-center that I thought for sure was a double or triple off the bat. But he tracked it down and made it look like a routine play.”
Then there’s Summerhill’s hitting. Through Tuesday, he was batting .615 (24-for-39) with 14 extra-base hits, 28 runs scored, 24 RBI and an unheard-of 1.915 OPS. He had struck out once in 58 plate appearances.
Little wonder he’s heading to one of the elite programs in college baseball. But, like a lot of prep athletes navigating recruiting during the pandemic, there was a detour or two along the way.
He originally committed to Kentucky and still has only good things to say about the Wildcats.
”Just with COVID and everything, I didn’t really get the real feel for it until after everything opened up,” Summerhill said.”Then I decided I probably should have waited and taken more time.”
This time, Arizona won out. The Wildcats’ tradition — four national championships, 18 trips to the College World Series, 40 NCAA playoff berths — was one draw. And, for a Midwest kid weary of cold, dreary springs, the weather in Tucson was another.
”It’s warm every single day,” Summerhill said. ”They’re the sunniest city in America. Three hundred sixty days of the year, there’s sun.”
”He’s going to have a choice,” Cassidy said. ”I think he’s going to get drafted. It just depends on where he’s going to go. And then it’s kind of, ‘What is it that you want to do?’ ”
The answer to that, for Summerhill, is simple: play baseball. Whether it’s in college or the pros is the only question.