It’s not easy for a three-time all-state honoree to fly under the radar.
Yet somehow, that’s exactly what newly-minted Hackett alum Brenden Warner did in his four seasons with the Irish baseball team.
Warner capped off his career at Hackett with a blistering senior season, hitting .500 with 28 RBI and 22 stolen bases, and earning Division 4 First Team All-State honors for the third consecutive season. Those gaudy totals also earned him the staff selection as the JOEINSIDER.com Kalamazoo County Player of the Year.
“He played all four years on varsity, four years all-conference, four years all-region, three-time all-state … it hasn’t been very publicized,” said Hackett head coach Jesse Brown.
“He’s been kind of a quiet piece. He just goes about his business.”
Playing in a very successful program, for a team usually anchored by great pitching, Brown said Warner’s success at the plate was often overshadowed. Somewhat remarkable, really, for a career .447 hitter.
“It’s not often a kid hits .500 on a season,” Brown said. “And we definitely don’t shy away from competition. He’s done some great things over his career.”
One of those things is winning. A lot.
Along with fellow seniors Joe Carr and Cooper Smith, Warner was part of a Hackett class that won 101 games.
“It’s been a great career for him – that’s pretty special,” Brown said. “He’s been a big part of a lot of wins for us.”
The one thing Warner hadn’t been asked to do much of prior to this season was to lead the Irish squad. With a younger team than in seasons past, that’s exactly what was asked of Warner this year.
“He put the team on his back more so than in the past,” Brown said. “We knew going into the year, our pitching wasn’t going to be the same. He had to put the team on his back and to watch him lead those other guys, it was really interesting to watch. He really excelled and led by example. He showed why he is who he is.”
For Warner, the added responsibility was something he didn’t take lightly.
“The past couple years, I wouldn’t be considered a leader – I’d lead by example,” Warner said. “This year I had to step up and take the role.”
While creating his own form of leadership, Warner mimicked the styles of players before him. That includes former Hackett star Adam Wheaton, whom Warner will room with next year as he takes his game to the college level at Trine University.
“I would always be more encouraging, just telling people to have fun and not be so hard on themselves,” Warner said. “It was weird doing that, because I had never really done that before. I was always having other people telling me that, but me doing it, it was different.”
It also seems Warner wasn’t able to take his own advise at times. Despite the individual success, and the team success – Hackett finished the season 26-5-2 and won a district title – as Warner reflects on his senior year, he’s more down on himself than one might expect.
“I feel like nothing is ever good enough for me, even though I do well,” he said. “I want to be better than that. I thought I could have done better.”
That relentless drive will likely suit Warner well at Trine University, where he will punt for the football team in addition to playing baseball. It certainly helped at Hackett, where he put together a career that will surely be remembered.
Now Brown is tasked with trying to replace that production, which has been a staple in the lineup for four seasons.
“On the offensive side, you just can’t replace a kid like that,” Brown said. “You hope a guy or two, or maybe three, fill the spot.
“You just can’t replace that. It’s a tough spot to fill.”
And for Warner, his days at Hackett will leave a void equally tough to fill.
“It was great at Hackett,” Warner said. “I loved playing for Coach Brown.
“It was great. Just having school and taking tests. You’re all stressed out, but then you go leave it out on the baseball field every day. Just hang out with your buddies.”
And even as the accolades continued to pile up, Warner never felt any more pressure than he did his freshman year, the first time he was brought up to varsity.
“There was not really any pressure,” he said. “Only when I moved up from JV, freshman year, was the only pressure I really had playing for Hackett. After that, everything was pretty smooth.”
Smooth, and a little bit under the radar. Although, perhaps no longer.
Kalamazoo Central sophomore Hilario DeLaPaz had a big season for the Giants, and the fans took notice. DeLaPaz earned 3,756 votes, accounting for 59.5 percent of the overall votes casted, to win the fan vote for Player of the Year. DeLaPaz was an All-SMAC East Division First Team selection after hitting .466 with 11 doubles, 34 RBI, 33 stolen bases and 35 runs scored.