By Brenden West Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — Full disclosure: I was very surprised when last week we still had four baseball teams in our coverage left in the postseason hunt. It then occurred to me how despite that success, there’s no guarantee any of those players will receive first-team all-state baseball recognition.
If local players aren’t honored, I don’t fault the process. Voting is a collaboration of editors and coaches who can make it to a special meeting in Des Moines. The decision needs to take place somewhere, and in that somewhere regional people will be there to make cases for probably viable candidates trimming down to 15 or so names.
By necessity those decisions will be based on stats, eye-witness accounts, much debating and probably some hometown bias. I nominated one player from our coverage area, with bias: Clinton High second baseman Cody Collender.
When I wander the visiting stands at Eagle Heights Elementary, the baseball junkie dads (the ones who usually shout “strategic suggestions” away from the rest of the parents) all murmur at the sight of number 24. These are the guys who make the act of browsing Quikstats rival the most intense fantasy football league draft.
Every one of them knows the name Collender. They know more about Collender – where he’s going to college, last year’s stats, his height in centimeters – than they know about some of their son’s teammates. I haven’t observed this elsewhere, even with a wealth of great local baseball this year.
That’s because teams have to know about Collender – a speedy power hitter who has made more than a few tip-your-cap field plays. He’s one major piece behind the River Kings’ state tournament bid. He leads 25-win Clinton in every significant offensive category: nine homers, 41 RBIs, 45 runs, 57 hits, .429 average, .744 slugging and 29 stolen bases.
Those numbers stack up statewide too. Compared with other second basemen in the Iowa Coaches Association top-10 4A schools, Collender leads in homers, slugging and average, is rated second in RBIs, stolen bases, and is top five in other major statistics.
Hard to argue with two multi-homer games against MAC foes this year; or back-to-back four-RBI games in the Fort Dodge tournament. Or intangible plays like Collender’s gem against Cedar Rapids Xavier -- swooping in to pick up a surefire bloop single in right for a 360-spinning throw out to first with time to spare.
Could be a safe bet, right? There may be a couple hurdles ahead. Iowa City West’s second baseman Reid Bonner beats Collender in several significant categories, all while fueling the Trojans to a No. 2 ranking and 33 wins. And while Cody’s numbers make a solid case, there may be others whose stats don’t paint a full picture, or will be favored because of bias — the same way I would favor our local kids if I were at the meeting.
Collender has one significant edge, though, over Bonner and others: he has a chance to dazzle voters tonight at the state tournament, unlike many of those competing with him for a first-team slot. Considering Clinton is now a top-eight team, it’s fair that it’s heaviest hitter warrants a considerable look.
The way I see it, the finest team in Iowa would maneuver to fit Collender in its lineup. Full disclosure: I’ll be very surprised if all-state selectors don’t feel the same.