Prep Baseball Report

Barbasol Baselines: The Lechnir Bros.

By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

There’s something old-school cool about the Lechnir boys.

Their story is almost like a sequel to The Sandlot, only this movie’s set in the Fox Cities of Wisconsin. Instead of a dirt lot in SoCal, the Lechnirs transformed their backyard into a state-of-the-art wiffle ball field – that’s how it looked through the eyes of any neighborhood kid, anyway. They crafted their own set of rules and stuck it to the garage door: Rule No. 1: “No Arguing.” With shaving cream for baselines, a tree was first base, a bush was second, and another tree was third. Lechnir Field, the only baseball diamond in Wisconsin that hosted games during all four seasons, molded Drew and Zach into the Central Michigan University-bound baseball players we know today.

“I just want to play baseball,” Drew said. “I can’t get enough. I want to play it for as long as I can.”

Their genuine love for the sport actually precedes that wiffle ball field. Their father Tom earned his reputation as one of the great baseball men of Wisconsin. His 25-year tenure as head coach of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh baseball program allowed his twin boys to envelop themselves in the sport he, too, loved. He led the 1994 Titans to a NCAA Division-III Championship, in addition to eight other D-III World Series appearances, and won 728 games while presiding over the Tiedemann Field dugout.

As far back as Drew and Zach can remember, baseball has been at the center of their after-school routine. School lets out, mom picks them up, they grab a bite to eat, and head to UW-Oshkosh to meet their dad and the rest of the team for baseball practice. They were elementary schoolers fielding fungoes with college kids. What their dad remembers most about those days is, on gamedays, they’d ditch the dugout to go find kids in the stands their age to play catch with. They weren’t interested in being bat boys, they’d rather be playing.

“I never really coached them,” Tom said. “I wanted to be their dad, not their coach. I know it’s a struggle to coach your own kids. But I’ve never said no to them either about working out. They have to want to do it. If they don’t, that’s okay. But it’s a rare day that they don’t want to go work out. They went to go hit after midnight on New Year’s Day in 2017. That’s special.”

According to dad, Drew, and Zach, they did their growing up at Oshkosh. Tom didn’t have time to coach his kids at Oshkosh, he was focused on his own team. It was his own players who helped hone baseball as the boys’ sixth sense.

The twins, locally, have been lauded for their on-field baseball acumen. It’s no wonder where that came from, they’ve been studying the game since… college, I guess you could say.

“Being on the field on gameday at Oshkosh, taking grounders with the infielders, running around,” said Zach, whose primary position is shortstop today. “Being around those guys exposed us to the game early. Everyday after school we’d be out there with them. We even had our own little lockers in the locker room, our own jerseys.”

And honestly, not much has changed.

Right now, as they start their senior year of high school, their only real “break” from baseball is their obligation to football. Their daily routine this late summer/fall is: school, football practice, dinner around 6:30 p.m., then they shed the football pads and trade it for their baseball bats to take an hour long round of tee work. Drew and Zach like to take an hour for themselves each off the tee before they reconvene to take batting practice from their dad and sneak in a little defensive work.

All this extracurricular work helped them adjust to the competitive travel ball scene, one they joined atypically late, especially for kids as talented as they were. The summer following their sophomore year was the first time they represented STiKS Baseball Academy on the travel ball circuit.

“They’re leaders on the field, I knew that,” said Sean Smith, the founder and CEO of STiKS. “Their presence and feel for the game – they’re gym rats who play the game the right way; anything to take the extra base. They’re always looking out two or three steps ahead, which is rare for players their age.”

Smith has known the Lechnir boys since the day they were born. He was on Tom’s coaching staff at Oshkosh at the time and he recalls the head coach having to miss a doubleheader against Stevens Point to be there for the birth of the twins. After the games wrapped up, Smith bolted to the hospital to join his staffmate and has remained a family friend ever since. When the Lechnir family felt it was time for Drew and Zach to start facing stiffer competition, they entrusted their sons’ development with Smith and the impressive team he assembled in Waukesha.

The past couple summers playing for STiKS has allowed the Lechnirs to generate some buzz among the scouting community and their hard work has been met with plenty of recruiting calls and, finally, a commitment.

On Monday, Sept. 10, the Lechnirs cashed in their countless hours of cage work in the backyard and are set to become collegiate athletes, just like the ones they emulated as kids at UW-Oshkosh. Drew and Zach announced their verbal commitment to Central Michigan where they believe they can win championships all while taking their own game to the next level.

Newly annointed CMU head coach Jordan Bischel was named to the position on June 28, with a loaded summer of recruitment ahead of him. He first saw the Lechnirs at a travel ball tournament a couple weeks later in Indianapolis while they were playing for STiKS Academy. It was Bischel’s first recruiting trip, according Tom. Neither Lechnir was stringing together their best offensive performances that particular weekend but, according to the boys, Bischel was impressed with that trademark baseball IQ that illuminated the field. He invited them for an unofficial tour of the CMU facilities shortly after and a formal, official visit in late August.

Drew and Zach weren’t adamant that they attend the same baseball program, but ultimately they thought that it was in their best interest and their future program’s as well. The brothers compete, healthily, against one another. They have all their lives and it balances them out.

Drew roams center field while Zach captains the infield from shortstop. Drew throws and bats left handed while Zach works right/right. Even on the gridiron, Drew surveils the secondary as a defensive back while Zach aims for the endzone as a wide receiver.

“There are lots of battles. It works though. I always say, it’s like working out by a mirror,” Zach said of the healthy competition he and his brother have with one another. “We see each other, our mechanics, and we make each other better. We had the opportunity to go to different spots but we make each other better. That was important to our decision.”

Thankfully, we won’t have to see the Lechnir boys pulled apart.

Coach Bischel saw what we all had grown accustomed to: the controlled pedal-to-the-metal intensity Drew and Zach play with. The two will have an opportunity to jumpstart this Chippewas program under new leadership for the first time in 16 seasons, after former coach Steve Jaska announced his retirement this past June with 507 wins under his maroon and gold belt.

Bischel, with a pair of one-year old twins of his own, has Drew and Zach readying themselves for their role as day-one leaders. That’s who they are. Before they step foot on campus as CMU students officially, they’ll have the opportunity to repeat as WIAA state champs at Kimberly. As sophomores, the Papermakers captured the Division-1 title with the help of a large number of underclassmen, namely Drew and Zach. Kimberly made it to state in 2018 but lost to Green Bay Preble in extra innings, 3-2.

In spring of 2019, the Lechnirs are eager to make a lasting impression on their high school, earning their second state championship in their four seasons as Papermakers, allowing this special class of 2019 to finish on top.

Regardless of how Kimberly performs in 2019, the adoration Drew and Zach have for the game of baseball will remain intact. These are still the same kids who used to go to bed with eye black on, who tape their bats and wrap their wrists the night before games, who ring in the New Year with a round of batting practice.

“I can remember back to those 30-plus years I coached, dads telling me how great their kids are,” Tom said. “Moms would say: ‘My son loves baseball.’ I’d say: ‘We’ll find out.’”

With the Lechnir boys, there’s no need to wait and see.