CEDAR RAPIDS — LaMonte Wade knows table tennis. Knows it really well.
And by every account, the guy can play.
“Never seen him, but I’ve heard it’s unbelievable,” Cedar Rapids Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said.
“He’s on a big-league level there,” said Kernels catcher A.J. Murray. “Compared to him, I’m still working my way up to low-A.”
Wade just gives you a slight grin when you ask him exactly how good he is at the game. The Kernels outfielder is a modest fellow.
“Ah, I’m pretty good,” he said. “I’m not going to toot my own horn, but I’m all right.”
All right enough to be the unofficial best player in the Minnesota Twins organization. Time and again during spring training, Wade took on and beat every comer.
That’s how the story goes anyway. The guys even put together a tournament.
”I’ve watched him play. I’d say he and (former Kernel) Zach Granite, they’re really good,” Murray said. “LaMonte is legit. Him and Granite, that’s a good game. LaMonte is a little more of an attacker, while Granite plays a little more defensively.”
This table tennis thing is not just a casual deal for Wade, who will start for the Western Division at Tuesday night’s Midwest League All-Star Game at Veterans Memorial Stadium. It’s his biggest hobby.
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LaMonte Wade Sr. bought a table for the family home in Owings Mills, Md., and many the battle has been waged between he and his two boys: LaMonte Jr. and Jamal.
“We always used to play each other,” said Wade, who plays table tennis right-handed but is a left-handed hitter in baseball. “We’ve got a ping-pong robot at home, too. If nobody wants to play, I just put the robot on, and it’ll shoot balls back and forth to me. That’s my favorite thing. Besides baseball, I love ping pong.”
Wade and his manager believe table tennis is part of the reason Wade has such a keen eye at the plate. He has walked 44 times this season for the Kernels and struck out just 27 times.
It doesn’t matter what level of baseball you’re at, that’s a great ratio.
“Oh, it definitely helps out with hand-eye coordination,” Wade said. “Then it’s just a lot of fun. If you want to get a little workout in, do it. You’re running back and forth, from side to side. It’s a lot of work. A lot of fun. I like it.”
“I think there’s something to it, the connection between that and being a good hitter,” Mauer said. “One hundred percent, there’s a correlation. We’re able to do some things now, as far as trying to strengthen your vision. It’s kind of like weight lifting for your eyes and your brain.”
Mauer said he thinks vision training will be the next big thing in baseball, the next sabermetrics. Some major league clubs already are into it.
Perhaps they should just buy ping-pong tables for every one of their minor league clubs instead. Wade would vouch for its benefits.
“I mean, I don’t win every single game or anything,” he said, with another grin. “But I do impose my will a little bit.”
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