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Player of the Year: Hard work helps Naile make it look easy

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 ~ Updated 11:57 PM

James Naile is the 2011 Standard Democrat Player of the Year.
(David Jenkins photo)
CHARLESTON -- After nearly every game, whether he's pitched or not, Charleston ace James Naile can be seen running foul pole to foul pole.

He'll run no matter the outcome on the mound or if he had hit at the plate or not.

It's not because someone told him to or it looks good to those that stick around after the final out was made, its because Naile may be Missouri's hardest working player in high school baseball.

It's the hard work that stems from his countless repetition of drills that makes his work on the diamond look so easy at times.

"The more baseball I've played and the more players I've seen, there's always someone better," said Naile. "There's always somebody that's doing more and working harder that can throw harder and hit farther. I'd like to have my name amongst those people. I try and do whatever I can each day, whether it's working out or taking swings or running to keep my arm in shape. It's all just built up and now it's just second nature.

"It was a lot of hard work early but now, I don't even think twice about running foul poles. It's just something I do."

His win-loss record, strikeouts, earned run average (ERA), all of it, is an exact reflection of the countless hours he's spent honing what has turned out to be an impressive craft.

He's about as dominant as they come in Missouri baseball. With the ball in his hand and his foot on the rubber, Naile is one of few players that can give his team total confidence in bringing home a win.

It's what led him to numerous off season recognitions, a college scholarship and to be chosen as the 2011 Standard Democrat Baseball Player of the Year.

"He's been the best player you could ask for," Charleston teammate Ethan Browning said about Naile. "He comes to the park and he works his butt off. He could go 2 for 3 and go home and hit 100 balls in his shed. He's just the hardest worker."

Naile, who is a somewhat gangly 6-3, 175 pounds, finished his senior season with an 11-2 record, 122 strikeouts and a miniscule ERA of 1.35.

He was a Class 2, all-state first team selection as well as an all-district and all-conference selection.

The right-handed hurler has the ability to put a pitch anywhere he wants it. Naile uses every bit of his length which enables him to whip a fastball that has been known to reach 89 mph.

"He's just a quality individual who has earned everything he's gotten," Charleston head coach Michael Minner said. "He's got the height thing going for him where he can get some whip going, but he's not a really physical or big kid. He's a kid that's worked his tail off for everything that he's gotten.

"He's a baseball kid. A lot of the time you see guys that are successful because they're good athletes. James, he's a solid athlete, but he's not a great athlete. He gets the most out of himself because of his baseball mind."

Naile's passion for putting in baseball work was shown at an early age. Baseball has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember.

"I can just remember playing catch with him in the yard and you couldn't wear him out," Naile's older brother, Brink Naile added. "It'd be dark and you'd tell him it was time to go in and he didn't want to go in. He was always out playing."

"My whole family is born and bred baseball," Naile said. "It started with my dad and he got me and my brother both interested. My brother is the biggest person in my life baseball-wise. It all started with me, Brink and my dad getting out and playing."

Brink Naile, who pitched for the Bluejays himself during the 2004-07 high school seasons, may have helped aid his competitive nature too. Naile credits Brink for much of his baseball knowledge as well as teaching him the ins and outs of the game.

"Everything me and my brother do is competitive," Naile said. "It's all good spirited, but, Brink has really helped me more than anyone as far as just helping me get better. If something goes on, he's there because he's been through it. I owe it all to him."

"He's struck me out once," Brink admitted. "But, I've got a base hit off of him too. He always hung out with me and my friends and we're pretty competitive ourselves. We weren't going to let him win. He was going to have to earn it. He ended up being better than me and any of my friends."

Naile's competitive nature shows the most when he's on the mound.

He pitches with a certain type of controlled rage. He's somewhat vicious in the way he attacks hitters with a no nonsense attitude. He's a fast worker who knows what he's doing on the hill.

"The main thing I try and work on is to just attack each hitter," Naile said. "I try to go right after them and throw a lot of strikes. As the games progress, the wins and losses don't matter as much, I'm just trying to help my team out on the mound. I try to do that every single game."

"James just pitches," Minner said. "We were never out of a ball game with James on the mound. If a guy is on third base with one out, James knows he needs to strike the next guy out and so often he did that. He kept us in ball games singlehandedly because of his arm."

Naile has always had a knack for performing on the mound. His hitting, however, has been one of his toughest challenges.

Early in his career, Naile wasn't the most intimidating presence with a stick in his hand. That all changed his senior season.

"Batting is something that I've definitely had to work on," Naile said. "Hitting is a different art than pitching. Pitching, you can control it. Hitting someone else is controlling it and you have to do your part to make up for it."

Naile led the team with a .458 batting average and three home runs. He tied for the team lead in RBIs and doubles and was second on the squad with 38 hits. He struck out just 11 times all season long.

"A lot of our guys aren't big guys," Minner said. "We made the most out of our pop this year and James was no different. He increased everything just from that work ethic and made himself a good hitter. He's selective at the plate and he knows the strike zone. He gets pitches that he can hit."

His demeanor on the field is the total opposite of what he's like off of it. The easy-going Naile is quick to say hello and talk about the game he loves.

"He'll joke around with you and he's a pretty fun guy," Browning said, "but he's still serious about the game. You talk to him about the game and he stays serious. Off the field when he's not talking about the game, he's a normal, fun guy."

Naile wrapped up a stellar high school career with one of the most dominating post season runs an recent memory. He won five-straight playoff games and led the Bluejays to their first Show-Me Showdown in school history

"We fed off of James late in the season," said Minner. "He had a tremendous run and it was just a remarkable finish for a great group of kids. We would have liked to have won it, but that's something no one will ever be able to take away from that group and James.

"They set the standard for what Charleston baseball needs to be."

His most impressive outing came against the top ranked team in Class 2 when Valle came to Hillhouse Park in Charleston during the quarterfinal round.

Naile won a 1-0 shutout and held one of the best hitting teams in the state to five hits while striking out seven.

"The Valle game was incredible," Naile said. "It was definitely the biggest game I've pitched in my life and luckily, I had the game of my life."

He pitched a very efficient first four innings before giving up back to back singles in the fifth in what would be just another defining moment in Naile's career.

Valle threatened with runners on first and third, but like so many other times before, Naile struck out the next two batters on just seven pitches.

"All of my pitches were working and for our team to beat that team,... we expected it but I don't think anybody else did," Naile said.

Naile and the Bluejays moved on to the state playoffs at Meador Park in Springfield.

"Every game James was on the mound, we felt that much more comfortable because he was so dominant," Browning said. "That game he threw against Valle, we knew they were ranked number one but you have to go in thinking you can win. With James on the mound we felt that way."

Although they ended up bringing home fourth after a 4-3 loss to New Bloomfield in the semifinals and a extra inning, 11-10 loss to Clever, Naile was honored with just being there.

"State was a chance of a lifetime to go to the final four," said Naile. "It didn't go our way and you've got to make your breaks in those types of situations and we didn't. But, just to be out there with the top teams in the state, we were right there with them.

"We didn't win but you can't win them all."

Now that his high school career is finished, Naile is moving on to play college baseball. He will join what has been a national force in the college baseball world in Parkland University.

Parkland has earned their status in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) as one of the top feeder schools in the country when it comes to baseball.

Currently, the Cobras are considered one of the top five baseball programs in the nation. They, recently, finished fifth in the NJCAA World Series just last season after a year removed as the NJCAA National Champions in 2009.

Parkland has been to six World Series' in the past 10 years.

"I'm so exited to join Parkland's program because they have such a great program," Naile said. "Hopefully, I can go there and get some experience, get better physically as well as overall mentally and end up somewhere big. I had some smaller schools offer but I wanted to play at the highest level of baseball that I could."

Naile's unrivaled talent and driven ambition is something that every coach looks for and players try to model themselves after. He's hoping his extreme work ethic takes him to unseen heights.

"He's been phenomenal, "Brink said about his brother. "You can't put it into words what he has done because its just been above and beyond anything we've seen here in Charleston. He goes out and works hard every day. He puts that time in and there's a reason he's that good. He's worked hard his whole life."

Naile will not allow himself to fail. His track record of hard work and the time that's been spent consumed in the game will not let failure even come to mind.

"Whatever he does will not be unexpected from me," Minner said. "I've said all along, he's a kid with huge upside. He has the ability to play professional baseball. He's a kid that can get drafted in a couple of years and coming out of JUCO, you might see him on the draft board.

"I've always said that whenever other kids where inside playing Nintendo, James is out hitting. He expects the best out of himself. He wants to be a winner and he wants to continue to play down the road. It's just a tribute to what could happen if you put in the work."