LIMA — A week into the season, Elida grad Mackenzie Hampshire was watching the Lima Locos with his dad in the top row of the bleachers.
Two weeks later, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Hampshire is the No. 3 hitter in the Locos’ lineup.
If it seems like the Locos pulled him out of the stands, they pretty much did.
After 10 games, the Locos were 5-5 and hitting .192 as a team. Locos coach Chad Ehrnsberger figured it was time to put out a call for first baseman "Big Mac" Hampshire.
“I’ve seen him play several times over the years,” said Ehrnsberger, an ONU assistant coach. “I actually saw him after one of our games here and I talked to him and his family. I was shocked when he said he wasn’t playing for a team. Obviously, knowing that we needed offense, it was an easy decision.
“I talked to (Locos general manager) Steve Meyer and I said, ‘We have to sign this kid.’ Steve gave me the green light and it was easy from there. When I talked to Mackenzie, he didn’t need to think about it. .. He has talent, he can play and he wants to be here. What more can you ask?”
The Locos worked Hampshire out prior to the home game against Dayton on June 19. After a quick round of batting practice, Hampshire was signed and handed a Locos’ white home uniform.
He didn’t play that night, but the following night at Hamilton, Hampshire singled in his first at-bat. He went on to go 4 for 6 with a double and an RBI in a 15-0 victory over the Hamilton Joes.
In two games, both starts, Hampshire is 5 for 9 (.556) with a double and an RBI. He also has a stolen base.
The key with Hampshire, dating back to his Elida days, is his disciplined, patient approach at the plate. He knows the strike zone and makes the pitcher throw him strikes. Hampshire is also good at hitting line drives the other way to right.
“If it’s in my zone, I’m swinging,” he said. “But it has to be in my zone, unless there’s two strikes.”
Ehrnsberger added, “He doesn’t give away any at-bats. Even when he’s gotten out, it’s been a good at-bat. That’s what I want. … Mac goes up there every time and works the count and gets a good pitch to hit and puts a good swing on it.”
Hampshire is getting used to coming out of nowhere to land in the heart of the lineup. At Ashland, he was seeing little time before he got his chance midway through the year.
“The (starting) first baseman didn’t run out a fly ball, so coach put me in,” Hampshire said. “The first at-bat I hit a double. The next day I started at DH (designated hitter) and I went 4 for 4 with two doubles.”
Prior to getting his chance, Hampshire said he had only had three at-bats.
“I knew that I had to sit a little while,” Hampshire said. “I loved baseball too much. I was always ready to go.”
The freshman Hampshire was a fixture in the lineup after that. He went on to hit .385 with 10 doubles and 22 RBIs.
Hampshire was named second team all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
At Elida, Hampshire was the player teams tried to pitch around. He still ended up with four home runs as a senior and seven for his career.
He said one of his more memorable blasts came in a Legion game at Lancaster’s Beavers Field. He launched it onto the building past the left-center field fence, which measures 390-feet away.
But Hampshire doesn’t consider himself a home run hitter.
“I try to hit hit hard, anywhere,” he said. “If you put it in play hard, something’s got to happen.”
Hampshire grew up as the younger slugger in the family. He followed his brother, Matt, who played baseball at Ohio Northern.
“Initially, it was my dad (Matt), who was my biggest influence (in baseball), then later on, it was probably my brother,” Mackenzie said.
Hampshire was too old to play for the Lima Legion this summer and didn’t have a place to play. He watched the Legion vs. the Locos, then came back for the Locos’ game against Grand Lake.
“I was thinking I could play with them, for sure,” Hampshire said, with a laugh.
In the Locos’ game last Sunday, Hampshire was the team’s No. 3 hitter.
“It feels real good,” Hampshire said. “Baseball’s fun and I’ve always wanted to play with these guys.”
For Hampshire, it sure beats sitting in the back of the bleachers.