Showcase : : Story
Monday, May 18, 2009

Handke (surprise!) looks good at Showcase

Jim Ecker        
It probably was no surprise that pitchers were the star attractions at the 2009 National Pre-Draft Showcase Monday at Veterans Memorial Stadium, but it may have been a surprise that one of the top pitchers was Chris Handke of little Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Handke, a 6-foot-11 stringbean, had a miserable season at Cornell this year with a 0-1 record and 15.19 ERA in 10.2 innings. He walked 12 guys in six appearances, hit nine batters, was touched for 15 hits and allowed 18 earned runs. That must have been somebody else in a Rams uniform this season, because he looked like a legitimate pitcher in the Showcase at Perfect Game Field in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"It felt good," Handke said after his performance, all smiles.

He struck out the first batter he faced for a good boost of confidence. The next batter singled to left on a changeup, but then was caught stealing on a perfect peg by Jeremy Weih of Kirkwood Community College. The next batter was retired on a high bouncer to the first baseman, with Handke covering the bag.

Handke, a junior at Cornell this past year, figures he helped himself with his performance, even if it doesn't lead to an immediate pro career.

"I think I pitched pretty well, and at least people know who I am now," he said. "It's kind of hard to get recognized at a small Division III college."

Handke is a two-sport athlete at Cornell and has enjoyed more success in basketball than baseball. He averaged 9.8 points and 6.3 rebounds during the 2008-09 campaign, helping the Rams compile a 21-7 record and reach the NCAA Division III national tournament. He's also an excellent student, carrying a GPA that's nearly 4.0, and won an award this year as the school's top scholar in chemistry and molecular biology.

Handke, from Bellevue, Iowa, developed a sore elbow at Cornell during the baseball season and fell out of favor with the coaching staff with those ugly stats. A visit and quick lesson at Perfect Game headquarters in Cedar Rapids last week may have turned him around.

Perfect Game president Jerry Ford watched Handke pitch last week and gave him a few pointers. It paid quick dividends.

"He was basically working on my hips and midsection. I wasn't doing that (using them properly)," Handke explained. "After he told me that, I instantly started throwing 3 or 4 mph faster, around 92 or 93."

Ford invited Handke to the Pre-Draft Showcase, where he threw well again. Handke did not expect to get an invitation, especially after what transpired at Cornell this season.

"I was excited," he said. "I just went in there (to Perfect Game) to get some advice and get some stuff figured out, so I could be a little bit more consistent. It (the invitation) definitely surprised me."

Handke said he plans to play both sports at Cornell next year and finish his degree. He'd love to become a professional athlete some day, preferably in baseball.

"Without a doubt, I'd say baseball," he remarked. "Baseball has always been more enjoyable for me. I enjoy basketball, but there's something about getting on the mound and just throwing it as hard as you can. It's fun."

Handke, who weighs about 230 pounds, said he'd like to add about 10 pounds of muscle. And after a tough year at Cornell, he's excited about the future.

"I always heard, because of my height and because I have a fairly strong arm, if I ever got everything figured out I'd be able to throw pretty hard," he said. "And it feels like I'm on my way to figuring it out. It just might be a little later than most people."
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