In the 2022 MLB draft, the Baltimore Orioles selected Lehigh junior catcher Adam Retzbach, freeing a catcher spot for Lehigh baseball.
Retzbach was the 407th pick in the 14th round of the draft and one of Lehigh’s top offensive performers in 2022. Retzbach was a first team All-Patriot League selection with a batting average of .293 and a league-leading 11 home runs in 2022. Retzbach reached base in nearly 40% of his at bats and defensively led the league by throwing 17 runners out attempting to steal.
Sophomore catcher Justin Butler said it was difficult to lose the team’s starting catcher but recognized Retzbach was ready to take the next step in his career.
“He was definitely a great presence on the field,” Butler said. “The whole team is only as good as its backstop, and he was certainly one of the better ones that I have ever played with.”
Lehigh has three catchers on the 2023 roster who look to fill the gap Retzbach left: Butler, junior Andrew Nole and first-year Owen Walewander.
Nole said playing with Retzbach has made the team understand what it takes to replace a player like him.
“It is now that we have to step up and it is our first time taking on that role for all three of us,” Nole said. “(Retzbach) was a good leader on our team. People respected him.”
Nole, the oldest of the catching core, comes into the season with the most experience of the three. Last season, Nole started in 34 games between backing up Retzbach and playing designated hitter, hitting .239 with a pair of home runs.
The biggest thing Nole has learned from Retzbach over the last couple of seasons, he said, was how to maintain composure behind the plate.
“His presence was known, and he was just very locked in,” Nole said. “Just watching him from the last couple of years, it made me realize what it takes to be a Division I catcher in the Patriot League.”
Butler, originally from Quakertown, Pennsylvania, enters his sophomore season at Lehigh having made an impact in a short amount of time.
Joining the team as an offensive force, Butler played in only 22 games as a freshman but recorded seven home runs and eight doubles. He led the team in slugging percentage, a statistic that measures the productivity of a batter based on how many bases they reach per hit.
Butler said he expects to improve from the work he and his teammates put in during the fall.
“We are all very accountable of each other,” Butler said. “Getting as much work in as possible, even if that means getting to practice early or staying after practice late.”
First-year Owen Walewander never played with Retzbach, but he is learning from his teammates, who have learned from Retzbach’s time as a starter.
Walewander specifically points to Butler and Nole’s guidance as contributing to his development.
“They’ve been very helpful in teaching me and showing me the ways of how they do it here,” Walewander said.
Nole and Butler have split catching duties in Lehigh’s first six games. Butler started in the season’s first two games against Bethune-Cookman, but suffered an injury while hitting an inside-the-park home run in the second game of the season.
Nole, who has started the team’s last four games, tacked on a home run of his own against The Citadel and is batting .353 to start the season through the first two series.
Lehigh baseball will play next on March 3-5, splitting four games between Manhattanville and Maryland Eastern Shore.
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