Baseball: Oak Forest’s Kyle Funkhouser chosen Player of YearKyle Funkhouser, of Oak Forest, delivers a pitch against Andrew at Oak Forest, Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 in Oak Forest, IL. l Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 9, 2012 10:24PM
For three years, Kyle Funkhouser has done whatever Oak Forest baseball has needed on the mound.
The Louisville recruit went 32-3 in his varsity career for the Bengals and played a starring a role in their run to second place in Class 3A last season. The last two years alone, the tall right-hander has struck out 257 and walked 50 in 1511/3 innings.
But the numbers, as impressive as they are, don’t tell the whole story for the 2012 Sun-Times Player of the Year.
The other day, Funkhouser was in Oak Forest coach Thad Gatton’s office to buy his Bengals uniform as a souvenir.
‘‘I told him I’m very proud of him,’’ Gatton said. ‘‘With all the success he’s had, at 16 years old, I probably would have been on top of the lunch table telling everyone.’’
But that’s not Funkhouser’s way. Instead, he’s doing jobs even some bench players look down on, including pinch-running, hitting fly balls to outfielders and serving as the protector for the bullpen catcher.
‘‘He’s a regular, good high school kid [who] is unbelievably gifted,’’ Gatton said.
‘‘Growing up, I played the field and I pitched,’’ Funkhouser said. ‘‘The last three years, I’ve kind of been a pitcher only. [But] I wanted to stay involved.’’
Funkhouser has been pitching at a high level for three seasons now. But he’s not the same player he was as a sophomore.
‘‘I came into the season knowing I needed to work on my offspeed [pitch],’’ he said. ‘‘Even though I had a couple of losses, I think I’m a lot better pitcher than I was last year.’’
‘‘I think he’s just maturing, both physically and mentally,’’ Gatton said. ‘‘Kyle was a typical 16-year-old kid, a little goofy, liked to joke around. [Now] he is driven and focused. . . . His competitiveness on the baseball field, on the basketball court, in a pickup game — he wants to win all the time.’’
One game Funkhouser didn’t win came early this season against Andrew, when he gave up eight runs (six earned) in a 20-5 loss.
‘‘That was a big thing for me,’’ he said. ‘‘I had a good season last year, [and] I was getting a little bigheaded. That made me tighten my stuff up.’’
After the Andrew loss, Funkhouser won his next 10 decisions before losing in the sectional semifinals to Marian Catholic.
Now it’s on to Louisville, where Funkhouser will concentrate on one sport after playing three in his first two years of high school and two in his last two.
‘‘He topped out at 94 [mph],’’ Gatton said. ‘‘He’s 18 years old, and he has the frame to continue to grow. . . . As long as he stays focused, the sky’s the limit.’’