Fougerousse keeps swinging despite shortened prep career

For now, Kip Fougerousse’s baseball world exists inside one half of a wooden barn — an alley cordoned off with black netting, from a pitching machine on one end and a red mat with a white-painted home plate on the other.

There are no games for Linton’s third baseman to play during a pandemic. But a current classmate and future Hoosier teammate, shortstop Josh Pyne, shouts scenarios at Fougerousse as he lines up for another swing on the tee.

Runners at first and second. It’s a righty’s job to take the ball opposite field. Runner on third, less than two out. Hit the ball hard and deep and get that runner home. Or Pyne’s personal favorite: runners on first and third, one out, two-strike count. Runners are moving on contact.

Time to swing, and do not hit the ball in the air.

“Just hitting takes your mind off of things,” Fougerousse said. “It’s relaxing, just working, just knowing you are getting better every day.”

This is not what the future Hoosier expected for his senior season, dozens upon dozens of swings off of a tee. But it’s better than dwelling on the reality of what brought him here.

Fougerousse didn’t just lose his final prep baseball season. The 1,000-point scorer saw his basketball career ended just 10 minutes shy of boarding a bus bound for regionals. After falling a few points shy of a state title in 2019, Linton was hoping to make another run to Bankers Life in 2020.

“It was like a one-two punch, back to back,” Fougerousse said. “I don’t get to compete for a sectional, regional, semistate, state title. We had another (baseball) team that was preseason ranked top 10, and we were looking great. And there were accolades I wanted to do for myself. I wanted to maybe be Mr. Baseball, maybe play in the Indiana All-Star game, maybe be a player of the year.

“All that was taken away. But it’s understood. We get it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic took Fougerousse’s basketball postseason. Then it took the rest of his baseball career. Then it left him with a choice.

He could dwell on the unfairness of it all. He could maybe take a break from baseball, because who knows when he’ll be able to get on IU’s campus, or whether there will be a summer ball season.

He could think that way. Or he could keep working.

The barn is on the Pyne family property, outfitted with that batting cage. Fougerousse is there every day, either with Pyne or his dad, Matt, Linton’s baseball coach.

Fougerousse’s mom’s boss has a weight room in his basement. Kip just has to text whenever he wants to head over. Equipment is wiped down. The front door is unlocked.

“Don’t have to see him, and stay six feet apart,” Fougerousse said, laughing.

It’s a baseball life that’s far different than anything he ever expected or wanted. But for a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder with aspirations of playing right away at IU, Fougerousse is trying to think of this as what he needs.

“It might be the best thing for me,” Fougerousse said. “Even though I hate it, I have more time to get stronger, work on my craft even longer, and get my body right for the next level. The only bad thing is not seeing live pitching and getting the reps I need to see in a game. But, hopefully, I can do that in the summer.”

So he’s finding his cuts at Pyne’s plate, trying to keep his hands inside, pushing the ball “opposite field” — right into the netting that hangs under the barn’s wooden trusses.

When he arrives home, Fougerousse gets his cuts of steak. He had two at dinner recently. He’s trying to consume as much protein as possible, replacing fat with lean muscle.

“Just protein shakes, steaks,” Fougerousse said. “Meat, meat, meat.”

The stronger he gets, the scarier Fougerousse could be for opposing pitchers. Fougerousse holds three school records at Linton, two proving the respect he’s already received. He compiled the most walks in a season, 31, and a career, 71. Those free passes have a lot to do with his third record, a .490 career batting average, which includes .500-plus seasons as a sophomore and junior.

He didn’t need a pandemic to instill a work ethic, because his production in high school was a product of what was built in. He has always gotten his swings in. His dad, Matt, goes back years as a batting-practice pitcher.

Matt is like Pyne, calling out scenarios for Kip to mentally process before every pitch. Zero-zero count, don’t swing at offspeed junk. Oh-and-two, protect the plate, even if the current penalty for popping up is just imaginary.

“Kip, he’s handled it well,” Matt Fougerousse said. “I think he’s mature for his age. He’s disappointed like everybody else, but he’s continued to work and he’s staying positive. And, hopefully, there is some summer baseball.”

Summer ball is the light at the end of the tunnel for Fougerousse, because, if everything went according to plan, IU’s incoming freshmen would have arrived on campus this summer. But with campuses closed, the hope is that the pandemic will subside enough for 2020 grads to link up with summer teams in June or July.

Fougerousse has been in touch with his former travel team, Indiana Prospects, about the possibility of joining an 18-and-under squad later this summer.

“I’m sure everyone is going to be champing at the bit, everyone is going to want to play if it opens up,” Matt Fougerousse said.

That opportunity would be invaluable, because Kip hasn’t faced live pitching since October when he was down in Jupiter, Fla., with the Team Indiana all-stars.

His father can only throw so hard. Pitching machines can pick up the velocity, but it’s still not the same as seeing the baseball out of a hurler’s hand. Fougerousse doesn’t want to head to IU with year’s long absence from live pitching, especially since the competition for at-bats will only intensify if some current IU seniors return for another year.

“You gotta work a little harder because those guys already have a season of weight training and college baseball under their belt,” Fougerousse said. “Coming in, I just have to work hard and do the things I know how to do and just be myself and things might work out. And if not, just do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Fougerousse has been in communication with IU’s coaching staff, and the one promise they could make is his scholarship will not be affected by the pandemic. Pyne, who arrives in 2021, received the same assurances. If some seniors return next spring, IU’s roster will just be bigger.

Pyne and Fougerousse wade through the uncertainty together. They were both contributors on the Linton basketball team that had its season cut short. They both wanted one last baseball season together, even if they understand the seriousness of the pandemic and why it couldn’t happen.

Like Fougerousse, Pyne holds out hope for a summer season, because he was planning on playing for a nationally ranked team out of Orlando, Fla., the Scorpions Founders Club. He was going to get in nine-hour practices with some of the top prospects in the country, living out of a dorm.

But until it’s safe to play, Fougerousse and Pyne just have to push each other. They text each day, figuring out a time when they can meet at the barn for swings. They also have each other for some long-toss, because Fougerousse’s dad’s arm doesn’t have the juice for that.

“He’s still going to play summer ball somewhere, I have my travel season to look forward to. We can’t get lazy,” Pyne said. “We’ll fall behind because everyone is working or finding a way to do it. Me and him, we have to stay on each other and get better during this time.”

The work is both mental and physical, low-tech and high-tech. Pyne works out with a personal trainer in Bloomington, Rod Root, via live video feed. Fougerousse trained with Root previously and has their routine memorized, so he just takes those exercises into his mom’s boss’s home gym. No webcam necessary.

Then it’s back to the barn for a couple hundred swings. One future Hoosier tells the other where the imaginary runners are. Fougerousse tries to blast the baseball into the netting at the proper angle.

They are, for the most part, laser-focused on each swing, usually about four at a time. Sometimes, though, in between those sets of four, small talk circles back to what their canceled season may have been. They just can’t help it.

“Talking it out with a fellow teammate and a future teammate, it’s comforting,” Fougerousse said. “It gives us a little hope that baseball will soon come back into play.”