WAVERLY — Carson Kallenberger still has fond memories of the electric atmosphere at Waverly’s Hertel Field during last year’s substate game with Dubuque Wahlert.
The magnified intensity placed on every play with a trip to the state tournament on the line was unforgettable for Waverly-Shell Rock’s shortstop.
“We lost (1-0), but it was a tight game and one of the most competitive games that I’ve been a part of, so that was really fun,” Kallenberger recalls.
Pointing to that game as one of the more memorable moments from last season, Kallenberger revealed his unselfish team-first approach to the sport. The second-team all-conference pitcher and shortstop had been relegated to a defensive role, taken out of the lineup over the final two weeks of the season due to an untimely slump.
“That wasn’t easy,” he said, offering no excuses. “I was striking out a lot and not really putting the ball in play. That was kind of a wake-up call.”
Instead of hanging his head and feeling sorry for himself, Kallenberger went to work. The dual-sport athlete, who was a part of W-SR’s state-qualifying basketball team, spent fall afternoons hitting by himself off a tee while many of his baseball teammates were busy at football practice.
He worked on batting coach Travis Angell’s drills to develop a higher launch angle and practice a variety of approaches depending on the number of strikes in the count.
“There was hardly a day that I drove home from work that I didn’t see him out in the batting cages after school all fall,” W-SR head coach Casey Klunder said. “He was always out there and he took hundreds upon thousands of swings.”
Prior to returning to the baseball diamond with his revamped swing, Kallenberger overcame a health scare. During a layup drill at a basketball practice, his heart monitor went up to 210 beats per minute and he nearly passed out. The condition resurfaced during an early March baseball practice and forced a trip to a heart rhythm specialist.
Kallenberger was suffering from a condition called supraventricular tachycardia in which a rapid heartbeat develops when the normal electrical impulses of the heart are disrupted. He completed an operation with an entry point through his leg in which a surgeon was able to eliminate the extra electrical signal that was causing the problem, and returned to baseball one week later.
While it has taken time to build up to a full starter’s pitch count, Kallenberger has quickly excelled in the field and at the plate. The cleanup hitter leads his 13-3 team — ranked 10th in Class 3A — with a .486 batting average and 17 RBIs.
His new approach shined last Tuesday during an early Top 10 showdown at three-time defending Northeast Iowa Conference champion New Hampton. Kallenberger lifted a one-strike fastball for a two-run triple in the third inning, brought two more home after an intentional walk loaded the bases in the fifth and finished his five-RBI masterpiece with a two-strike single in the sixth.
It marked the first time since W-SR’s 2014 conference championship and state semifinalist season that the Go-Hawks had won at New Hampton.
“As soon as something like that happens you flash back and think about the big games people had,” Klunder said. “I don’t remember five RBIs in a big conference game like that for a long time.
“That will stand out to me as one of the great individual hitting performances in a big rivalry game that we’ve had. New Hampton has very good pitching so for him to come up with that many key hits was really impressive.”
Indeed, the senior who waited patiently behind all-state shortstops Eric Willis and Dalton Graven has overcome a rough end to his junior season and emerged stronger.
“It felt good,” Kallenberger said. “Especially after not hitting halfway through the season last year, just showing people what I can do. Being the cleanup hitter, coach put a lot of confidence in me and it’s working pretty good right now.”
Also a 2-0 pitcher with a 1.70 ERA, Kallenberger has displayed leadership beyond the statistics.
“Carson has got a great sense of humor and he’s very well liked,” Klunder said. “He’s probably one of, if not the most popular player on our team. The other players gravitate towards him and his personality.”
Designated as a batting practice DJ, Kallenberger has recently played a role in starting workouts with a song from nearby Clarksville native and American Idol winner Maddie Poppe.
“Me and my teammate, Ryan Willis, were up at the press box one day and it came on, on shuffle, and he was like, ‘Yeah, we should start this every batting practice,’” Kallenberger related. “The next day we started it and walked back down to the field and Coach Klunder and Coach Angell were dancing. It was just another fun tradition that we started.”
Following this season on the diamond, Kallenberger plans to join his long-time girlfriend at York Technical College in South Carolina before transferring to the University of South Carolina. The senior is eager to see what this year’s Go-Hawks can accomplish during their final summer together.
“We’re going all-in and it’s a lot of fun,” Kallenberger said. “I try to cherish every day and make a memory every day.”