Holding court: Savvy Warriors star Hoel leaves legacy opponents won't soon forget

Holding court: Savvy Warriors star Hoel leaves legacy opponents won't soon forget

TUSCOLA — During the course of four years at Tuscola High School, Dalton Hoel tormented the Warriors' baseball, football and basketball opponents simply by faring well at his job.

When it came to Hoel's duties on the baseball diamond, that meant getting on base and advancing by way of a steal. It meant serving as the Warriors' leadoff man. It meant soaking up any ball hit his way at shortstop.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

"There were times where I'd walk through the (handshake) line at the end of the game, and the (opposing) coach would say something along the lines of, 'I enjoyed watching you play, but I'm not upset that you're done,'" Hoel said with a laugh.

Such happenings have led him to receiving The News-Gazette's All-Area Player of the Year status for the 2018 season.

The recent Tuscola graduate hit .472 (fifth locally), swiped an area-best 62 bags, drove in 26 runs and generally made life difficult for anyone who crossed paths with the Warriors on their road to third place in Class 2A.

It's safe to say Dalton frustrated his baseball foes this year with both his talent and his cerebral approach to the sport.

Perhaps it's fitting that, after his athletic career wraps up, he wants to become a lawyer.

"It probably came from an argument he and his mother had," said Duff Hoel, Dalton's father and Tuscola's recently retired baseball coach. "He's very good at debating, very good at getting his point of view across and supplying facts to support his point of view."

In other words, Dalton is a thinker. He possesses strong personal and situational awareness. He's adaptable.

All of these traits one day may help him climb to his dream career. But they've already paid dividends when Dalton is playing baseball.

***

Duff and wife Dedee didn't have to wait long to learn about their youngest son's mental aptitude.

During Dalton's grade-school tenure, he was tasked with completing a quartet of math tables throughout the school year. Dalton's teacher quickly called the Hoels to report a problem.

"Dalton did all four the first day," Duff recalled. "You tell him to multiply two four-digit numbers, he'll give it to you like that in his head. I don't know how he does it."

Of course, solving equations isn't a major factor in coming out on top of a baseball game. But the point still stands that Dalton latches on to topics and information, absorbs the content and uses it to his benefit.

Dalton talks about driving the ball through shift-specific gaps or adjusting defensively based on opponent tendencies, similarly to how a botanist would discuss plants.

He comes off sounding like an expert, especially for someone so young.

"My dad played in college, and my brother (Dillon) played in college," Dalton said. "My dad, growing up, he always knew what he wanted us to do. Dillon got the ability to play at the next level, and he brought his learning back and told me everything I needed."

That's only half the battle, though. Dalton could gobble up every bit of baseball information, but execution still would be key.

He's got that covered, too.

It's evidenced by his general statistics, but also by the fact he reached base in 63 percent of his plate appearances and contributed errorless defense for a large portion of this season even after suffering a broken middle finger on his throwing hand.

"I'd love to have a heart monitor on him in pressure situations, because I don't think it changes," Duff said. "As a matter of fact, I think he might be better under pressure, honestly."

***

Some of Dalton's athletic accomplishments are rooted more in instinct than anything else.

Duff has two examples he likes to look back upon. Let's start with football.

"His junior year, when he got all the interceptions, he would just bait people," Duff said. "I would see him lay off of them a little bit, and then they'd be running down the sideline and he'd slow down a little bit.

"Coach (Andy) Romine would tell me (Dalton) had a knack to get in front of a guy who's bigger than him and just slow down to where the guy would run into him, and it wasn't pass interference. You can't teach that."

Perhaps that situation isn't terribly applicable to baseball — unless Dalton was a baserunner messing with a defensive player's line of sight. It's still a level of insightfulness that can prove potent in any athletic feature.

And Dalton carried that in spades even before he entered high school. Enter Duff's second instinct-related story about Dalton.

It was the ninth inning of a Little League championship game when Dalton was 12 years old. He'd recently gotten serious about switch hitting. There he was at the plate, with the bases loaded and his crew trailing by multiple runs.

"He comes up to me and said, 'Hey, why don't we get this over with?'" Duff remembered. "I said, 'What do you have in mind?' He said, 'Let me bat right-handed.' All right, boom. Good idea, son."

***

Speaking of the switch hitting.

Players who can master that art are valued as they progress through baseball's hierarchy. Perhaps Duff knew that when he suggested Dalton, a natural right-hander, begin to practice batting lefty.

"When I was about 12, he was like, 'Let's give it a shot,'" Dalton said. "(Duff said), 'Let's do this whole round left-handed, and then we can come back and do a whole round right-handed.'

"So I did it, and it wasn't pretty. But it wasn't as bad as you'd think."

Dalton went on to spend an entire Little League campaign swinging solely from the left side of the dish. He described that as an eye-opening series of games.

He still thinks of his right-handed approach as the more natural of the two. But over the course of such lengthy prep seasons as this year's 42-game jaunt, he's felt a change.

"Toward the end of the year ... there's more right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching," Dalton said. "So I see more lefty at-bats throughout the whole course of the year, so at the end of the year my lefty's feeling more comfortable just because I've had that many more at-bats."

The results consistently came out positive. As a righty. As a lefty. With a broken finger. Standing just 5 feet, 6 inches tall.

Especially in his senior year, Dalton constantly was hitting, finding a spot on base and pushing Tuscola to victory.

"Everybody can hit the ball," Dalton said. "It's just kind of about working at-bats, working the count, hitting your pitch instead of hitting the pitcher's pitch."

***

If Dalton does become a lawyer, he says it won't necessarily be similar to the individuals seen in courtroom dramas and similar television programming. He's more interested in business or corporate law.

That this career trajectory even came into existence for the future Kaskaskia baseball athlete still makes Dalton laugh.

"It started out as kind of a joke," he said. "Whenever I'd argue with my parents, they'd always be like, 'You don't give up.'"

Then came Dalton's junior year, when English teacher Christy Hoel — Dalton's aunt — assigned Dalton and his classmates to shadow local professionals.

Dalton selected current Douglas County state's attorney Kate Watson. It was then he realized, that yeah, he could become a lawyer.

Duff has no problem with that belief, even though Dalton already informed his parents exactly how much it costs to attend Harvard Law School.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he changes majors and became a doctor," Duff said. "He's going to utilize his intelligence for the betterment of people. There's not a doubt in my mind about that."

Conversations with Dalton often turn to sports, though. As he's recognized more and more the effect athletics has had on his life, he's considering ways to tie that into his desired career.

And, as with his time playing high school baseball, Dalton likely will find a route to make his goal a reality.

"One thing that I've sort of started to look into a little bit more is being a sports agent," Dalton said. "Coming out of college, I'm not too worried about trying to find a job. I think there's really big openings for future lawyers."

Honor Roll: News-Gazette baseball Players of the Year

YEAR NAME SCHOOL

2018 Dalton Hoel Tuscola

2017 Colton Hale St. Joseph-Ogden

2016 Dalton Parker St. Joseph-Ogden

2015 Dylan Grady Centennial

2014 Joe Aeilts Champaign Central

2013 Hunter Hart St. Joseph-Ogden

2012 Chuckie Robinson Danville

2011 Jason Ziegler Mahomet-Seymour

2010 Brannon Kwiatkowski Mahomet-Seymour

2009 J.D. Learnard Salt Fork

2008 Clayton Meyer Tuscola

2007 Neil Wright Mahomet-Seymour

2006 Alex Acheson Champaign Central

2005 Alex Acheson Champaign Central

2004 Andy Pollock Tuscola

2003 Ryan Bird Armstrong-Potomac

2002 Ryan Bird Armstrong-Potomac

2001 Joey Frerichs Armstrong-Potomac

2000 Matt Minnes Urbana

1999 Mike Saunches Argenta-Oreana

1998 Travis Florey Sullivan

1997 Jason Anderson Danville

1996 Dave Hoffman Schlarman

1995 Quinn Moller Centennial

1994 Caleb Englehardt Tuscola

1993 Doug Little Monticello

1992 Jeff Martin Mahomet-Seymour

1991 Troy Pruitt Mahomet-Seymour

1990 Kerry Cheely Villa Grove

 

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