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A power player: Newcomer Kirk brings a big bat to the Nighthawks

  • Nighthawks first baseman Easton Kirk watches a ball fly foul off his bat on a pitch from Nicholas DeGennaro of the Mountaineers at the Maxfield Sports Complex in Hartford, Vt., Saturday, July 6, 2019. The Nighthawks won 4-1. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tucker Curtis, 8, of Hartford, kept a bat broken by Nighthawks first baseman Easton Kirk during the game with the Vermont Mountaineers, at the Maxfield Sports Complex in Hartford, Vt., Saturday, July 6, 2019. Curtis and his mother Kylie Young, are hosting Kirk this summer. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/6/2019 9:53:45 PM
Modified: 7/6/2019 9:53:44 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Easton Kirk swings at baseballs the way lumberjacks chop down trees: hard, fast and with an angry power that make dents.

It’s what the Upper Valley Nighthawks expected when they signed the Wallace State Community College athlete and Troy University commit — a power-hitting infielder that could extend the lineup. He joined the team on June 29 with plenty of fanfare, accolades and hitting statistics that got him named the 2019 Alabama Community College Conference player of the year.

So far, he’s delivered. The Piedmont, Ala., native is batting .385 in his first seven games for the Nighthawks with 10 hits in 26 at-bats with five runs, a triple, a home run and seven RBIs. He entered the holiday weekend batting .588. He also had a walk-off RBI in last Wednesday’s game against the Sanford Mainers.

“I’m happy with it, it could definitely be better. You can get better every single day,” Kirk said before Friday night’s game against the Keene Swamp Bats. “It’s just, you’ve got to figure out what you’re doing that one day when one day goes wrong and come back with a better day.”

Not bad for a guy who expected to be at home resting this summer ahead of his first season with the Trojans instead of seeing live at-bats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He got the call in mid-June when the Nighthawks were looking for a few more offensive options.

Kirk, a 6-foot, 215-pound lefty batter, was a three-sport athlete at Piedmont High School; he also played football and basketball. He was 3 years old when he joined his first baseball team.

“Baseball caught my attention from the beginning,” he said. “It was love from the very first time I picked up a bat. … The whole fact that there’s not a timer or anything. Anything can happen at the end of the game.

“Plus, the whole hitting aspect is such a challenge. To be a good hitter in baseball is so hard. To challenge yourself every day to be the best hitter you can be is probably my favorite part about it.”

He’s also always known as a power hitter, hitting 18 home runs with 60 hits, eight doubles and a triple at Wallace State this spring. Kirk said he realized his hitting potential as a senior in high school.

“I had hit home runs my whole life,” he said. “But (senior year), I really calmed down. … I got way more mature my junior to senior year, it was crazy. Hitting was so much easier after you get that mindset.”

Keller Bradford, the Nighthawks head coach, likes what Kirk has brought to the lineup.

“He makes our lineup really long,” Bradford said on Friday. “That makes me feel good all the way through. Five, six, seven, any of those guys can either leave the yard or provide a base hit that can score some runs. That was exactly what we need.”

It’s an important summer for Kirk, who is getting ready for his first season at Troy this fall. He’s thrilled to join the program; the Trojans were the only one he considered.

The next few weeks, he said, are as much a showcase for MLB scouts, constantly looking for upcoming talent, and a chance for him to get used to a higher level of pitching.

“This is probably, for him, just getting reps with higher level pitching,” Bradford said. “A lot these guys he’s facing here are D-I guys, D-II guys. There’s really good pitching in juco, don’t get me wrong. But the depth that he’s seeing here is more similar to what he’s going to be facing at the Division I level.”

His time at junior college, Kirk said, has made him a better player — a two-year grind in hopes an NCAA Division I school likes what it sees.

“It definitely is a dog-eat-dog world,” Kirk said of junior college. “The kids you’re playing every day are the same kids schools are looking for to try and get to their school the next year. Every time you step on the field, you want to have a better day than everybody else on the other team.”

Bradford, who is the pitching coach at Mississippi Delta Community College and played at Hinds Community College, knows the juco world well and just how sharply it can shape an athlete’s mindset. Kirk, it seems, is reaping the benefits of those two tough seasons.

“I’m a juco guy there — played juco, coached juco. I’m a big believer in juco,” Bradford said. “He was the man in Alabama as far as juco. He’s come and become a big part of the team already.

“He’s going to Troy next year. I think he’ll do very well there.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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