BANDON — Dichotomous leadership is the norm on teams. People with different personalities and different approaches to leadership regularly coexist, and it’s oftentimes better.
On Bandon’s baseball team, dichotomous leadership is most certainly the norm, at least as it relates to players. Jason Wilhite and Ethan Hultin, Bandon’s most used pitcher and essentially exclusive catcher, provide a very similar service just in two different ways. Both well-versed in the game of baseball and competitive, Wilhite is more quiet, reserved and leads by example. Hultin is louder, more firey and is the vocal leader of the team.
“It’s a tale of two worlds,” Bandon coach Jay Ferrell said.
Ferrell asked the two seniors to take control of the team’s leadership entering the 2019 season.
For whatever reason, several Bandon seniors elected to not turn out for baseball this year, making it even more important these two became more conscious leaders.
Once the roster was set and Ferrell knew it was younger than originally expected, he brought the pair in and told them point blank what he needed: For them to step up not only as players on the field but in the dugout and on the practice field and away from baseball. He needed a standard set and held. He needed leaders.
Hultin had already been doing that for much of his time at Bandon.
A catcher, he understands the unique role that position plays on the field. The obvious things catchers do — crouch and catch the pitches, fielding bunts and blocking balls and throwing out base runners — are hard to miss. But catchers set the defense. They can see the whole field and use that large field of vision to direct where the ball needs to go on a given play.
“I don’t think it’s a lot of pressure,” Hultin said. “It’s something I’ve always done. I try to do it well.”
Hultin has taken that role as the field general to heart, but his firey personality does more. He holds players accountable in practice, making sure everyone knows what the standards are. He’s loud and supportive and does his best to not let the team's energy fall.
He stands up for his teammates and is never shy about talking.
Ferrell said that constant energy from Hultin is a boon, something Bandon almost certainly depends on.
“He’s the commander back there,” Ferrell said. “Like we tell him, he’s the only guy who can see the whole field. He has to dominate the whole field. And he’s been good at getting that done.”
Wilhite, though, is the other side of that coin. He’s quiet, sure. Ferrell calls him the Silent Assassin. If you weren’t looking for him you might not know he was there, until he takes the mound and quietly competes.
Where Hultin’s competitive energy is obvious to behold, Wilhite’s desire to win might not be evident. But it’s there, simmering and bubbling under a calm façade.
“I just lead by example because I have the ball in my hand,” Wilhite said. “Strike the guy out or put it in play.”
Ferrell said Hutlin and Wilhite both have some of the best baseball IQs on the team, and that knowledge is important.
There aren’t any coaches on the field during games, obviously, and teams need players to talk and teach and share. Even the quiet Wilhite does it.
“I don’t really try to do it, I don’t think, because I’m quiet,” Wilhite said. “But in practice or in games if I see something they can do better I’ll help them.”
Though Bandon’s record isn’t what Ferrell wanted this year due largely in part to the unexpected and forced infusion of youth, Wilhite and Hultin have been constants.
Wilhite plays a solid first base when he isn't on the mound giving Bandon a chance to win. Hultin is a brick wall behind the plate, using his sizable frame and loud voice to be one of the better catchers in the Sunset Conference his entire career. Both have good bats and have come up with big hits.
Once they inevitably graduate, the holes they leave will be bigger than just positional.
But the Tigers hope for an extended run in the Class 2A-1A playoffs first. They reached the semifinals last spring.
If Bandon has similar success this spring, it's a safe bet the Tigers' two senior leaders will be a key to that success.