Eric Callahan felt like a kid again every time he took the field this spring.

The 2016 Bexley High School graduate had a breakout junior season with the Millersville University baseball program thanks to finally being healthy. He enjoyed the game like he did as a youngster and now has high expectations for his senior season.

Callahan has started at shortstop for three seasons with the Marauders, but he batted .314 with seven home runs, 40 RBI, 31 runs and 15 steals this spring as his team finished 38-16 overall and won the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference-East Division at 23-5. His seven homers set a program record for shortstops in a season.

"The biggest thing for me is staying healthy, especially after having a stress fracture in my lower back last spring," Callahan said. "I had to deal with injuries and showing up to the ballpark like that really affected my confidence. Now I have more confidence and I can think about my approach more, things like wanting to put the barrel on the ball every at-bat. I'm having fun again and just playing baseball."

As a senior at Bexley, Callahan was named MSL-Ohio Division Player of the Year after batting .424 with five doubles, three triples and 17 RBI.

In his freshman season with the Marauders, he started 37 of 41 games but batted .206 with two homers, 14 RBI and 14 runs. As a sophomore, he batted .250 with one homer, 22 RBI and 23 runs while starting all 57 games.

"Physically, Eric's a great athlete," coach Jon Shehan said. "He always has been a leader in the weight room and on the field. He's the best defensive shortstop in the conference statistically (with a .966 fielding percentage and six errors in 50 games this spring), and he has turned the corner offensively as well.

"I think the biggest thing is that he's been healthy. He played through some injuries (in 2018), and he was 100 percent healthy this spring. He runs well and his short game is good. He hit for some power and he was able to drive in runs for us batting in a run-producing spot -- the six hole."

Callahan had an .873 fielding percentage with 17 errors as a freshman and was at .948 with 12 miscues as a sophomore. He attributes his improvement to knowing he belongs on the field.

"I had a different mindset when I got (to Millersville) and it was almost like trying not to mess up instead of just making plays," said Callahan, who was first-team all-conference this spring. "I'm not going out scared of making mistakes anymore, but just going out and working to win games.

"I take a lot pride on defense. If you focus and work hard on it, it makes a difference. When I was at Bexley we would win playing small ball and playing good defense. Attention to detail was really important and I continue that here."

This summer, Callahan is playing a third season of wooden-bat baseball. Last summer, he played in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, which has teams in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

This year, he started with the San Francisco Seals in the California Collegiate League on June 4. He played six games before fouling a ball off his left foot and deciding to return home.

The foot healed more quickly than expected, so Callahan returned to summer ball. He began playing with the Westhampton (New York) Aviators in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League on July 3.

"It wasn't clear if there was a hairline fracture or not and I would have been out for at least two weeks, so I came home to make sure that I didn't make it worse," he said. "(The foot) felt better so I decided to play again and went up to the Hamptons League, where I played after my freshman (college) season."

Callahan said the grind of playing 50 to 60 collegiate games is different from the high school schedule, which is about half that amount.

"It's tough to maintain your strength ... playing 50 games in a regular season and whatever you play in the postseason," said Callahan, who is majoring in accounting and minoring in mathematics. "When you play Tuesday nights and have four (league) games over the weekend, finding times to lift and eat well can be tough. That's so important to staying healthy and being able to play."

Shehan expects Callahan to show continued improvement as a senior.

"Eric had a great (junior) season, but I think he still has a lot more in the tank," Shehan said. "I think he has the ability to hit 10 to 15 homers and have 60 to 70 RBI, which are great numbers for a college season.

"I think his offensive production can rise even more. As hard as he works, he can refine things offensively, and he can have a fantastic end to his college career."

shennen@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekHennen