By Nate Thompson
MONTAGUE – For years, Jacob Buchberger has been determined to prove himself on any field or court he steps on.
“He does hold me to higher expectations because he knows the player I can be and the player I want to be,” a shortstop and pitcher for the Wildcats.
“It can be hard sometimes, but I try not to let him down very often.”
Buchberger remembers the first time he tried to prove to his dad how competitive he could be, in a friendly foot race years ago.
“I remember I raced him back in like the fifth grade,” Buchberger said with a laugh. “He had a lead, but I bumped into him and I kind of did a barrel roll. He came back to check on me to see if I was OK, so that’s how I won.”
Sure enough, Kevin Buchberger lists one of his son’s strengths on the baseball diamond as “quick feet.”
“He’s just a great athlete,” said Kevin Buchberger, a Montague alumni who went on to play baseball at Aquinas College. “He’s got very good feet, quick. He’s got a strong arm and pretty good size. And he plays the game the right way.
“Against Muskegon Catholic, their center fielder made a diving catch on a liner Jacob hit and he went out there and gave the kid a high five. He likes to watch good baseball and play good baseball. That’s why he’s a joy to coach.”
An added bonus for the coach has been Jacob’s productivity through two-plus years of varsity baseball.
Last year as a sophomore, Buchberger earned Division 3 All-State honors with a stellar .439 batting average. He’s off to a similarly strong start at the plate this season.
His team has also jumped out of the gates quickly with a 6-2 record. The Wildcats’ only losses have come against Muskegon Catholic, a team many consider a state contender in Division 4, and Charlevoix, a preseason top 10 team in Division 3.
The strong start has both father and son thinking that the Wildcats could produce results similar to 2013, when they reached the regional finals.
Aside from Buchberger, Montague features a stellar battery of No. 1 starting pitcher Andrew Bobian and catcher Cameron Brayman, and plenty of slick-fielding underclassmen.
“Coming into this year, we had no returning starting seniors, and with so many young kids, I thought we might finish at about a .500 clip,” Kevin Buchberger said. “But a lot of these kids have so much game experience from playing travel ball.
“With our start, I think we could finish with a .600 or .650 winning percentage. With our pitching and defense, we have a chance to turn in a nice postseason run.”
A great finish to the baseball season could ease the sting Buchberger has experienced this year in the win-loss department in football and basketball.
On the gridiron, the traditionally strong Wildcats sputtered to a 2-7 finish last fall, despite Buchberger’s strong season at quarterback. In a run-heavy offense, he totaled nearly 700 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
On the basketball court, Buchberger was the Wildcats starting point guard and led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists, but Montague finished 8-12.
“We only had three seniors on both sides of the ball (in football), so hopefully next year, with the experience we gained, we can improve quite a bit,” Buchberger said.
“The guys recognize that and are already putting in a lot of work, getting in the weight room and training. The losing was tough. With all the past success we’ve had in football, it’s like we let the whole town down.
“We don’t want to experience that feeling again.”
Buchberger has plenty of time to make things right, and in the process, possibly catch the eye of a college coach. His dream is to play both baseball and football at the next level, but realizes he’ll likely have to choose just one.
“My football coach (Pat Collins) said I could maybe play in Division 1 and my coaches in baseball feel I could play at that level, too,” Buchberger said.
“I know it takes a lot of hard work to get there. I just want to go out there with a chip on my shoulder and try to make myself the best I can be. But it’s a huge goal of mine to play at the next level. I hope it comes true.”