By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
LIBERTY, Ill. -- Delano "Laney" Hanzel tries to find things to occupy his time during the spring, but it's usually a futile effort.
As soon as his cell phone beeps, Hanzel will drop what he's doing.
The 78-year-old Hanzel undertsands those beeps mean he's receiving a score update from a baseball game being played 1,700 miles away from his home in Kalispell, Mont.
Yet, knowing how his grandson, Liberty senior catcher Lane Hanzel, and the team coached by his son, Dewey, fared is as important as anything happening in his own backyard.
"I don't get much else done," Laney said. "It's exciting, and I really look forward to doing that thing on GameChanger. We can't be there for a lot of games, so we can't find out what's going on. It's neat being able to see what happened inning-by-inning and the whole spiel. It's nice to be in contact when we're not there."
Having his grandfather, who played semi-professional baseball in Great Falls, Mont., a text message or a phone call away is invaluable to Lane. That held especially true after last season, when the Eagles lost to Griggsville-Perry 13-1 in a Class 1A regional championship.
As he does after every game, Lane called his grandfather that day. Their conversation lasted nearly an hour and focused on more than baseball.
"Last year, after our tough regional loss when we didn't play up to expectations, it hit me pretty hard at the time," Lane said. "Going home and being able to call and talk to him about life and not worry about the game anymore, it was really nice to talk to him and talk about baseball, losing and how it's just part of it."
Baseball is something Lane has always had in common with his father and grandfather. Growing up in Montana didn't afford Dewey or Laney the opportunity to play in high school. Winters last too long, and prospective baseball players are forced to play American Legion in the summer.
Dewey turned down an opportunity to play baseball in Arizona in order to play football at Montana State University.
"Baseball's always been a passion of mine," Dewey said. "My dad did the same things as me. He loved baseball and still does and passed this on to Lane. We did a lot of throwing in the backyard.
"Even now, we throw Wiffle balls in the driveway. In fact, before it snowed, we were doing it this year in the fall. Through the winter, I'm finding them now that the snow melted in the front yard. (The better question is) where haven't I found one? I think they are about everywhere."
When the Hanzels moved to Liberty when Lane was in kindergarten, he was a little disappointed he couldn't play football.
Baseball has been the perfect alternative.
Already committed to Anderson (Ind.) University, an NCAA Division III school, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior hit .598 last season, one of the top 25 seasons in Illinois High School Association history. On the mound, Lane was 5-3 with a 1.56 ERA.
"I really loved baseball from the very beginning," Lane said. "It was a sport that clicked with me. I played the other sports, and in Montana, football was kind of king. When we moved here from Montana, I wanted to play football. When I got to Liberty and Liberty didn't have a football team I had to find something else.
"Baseball clicked with me and I watched it all the time and fell in love with the Cubs and kept chasing it."
Growing up, Lane developed hand-eye coordination hitting with a broomstick and golf ball. Dewey would take his daughter's golf balls and throw pitches to Lane.
"They were little golf balls he would throw them to me and practice (swinging)," Lane said. "If you can hit with a broomstick, you can hit with a bat."
During his high school career, patience and focus have helped Lane develop into one of the best hitters in the state. It comes back to being comfortable the moment he steps into the batter's box.
"It starts in the on deck circle," Lane said. "That's when I start to focus. I take one full swing, two half-swings just working my hands and then the rest I don't take another swing. I get my timing down on the pitcher, and I try to stay loose and see where the infielders playing and what the pitcher is doing with the kid in front of me. Think about the position of the game. Once I get in the batter's box, it's all clear."
Laney has seen Lane play five times total, all when he was in town two summers ago.
It trumped any text message he will ever receive, and it gave him a glimpse of how strong the family lineage is.
"I just feel the desire and the get up, wanting to do it," Laney said. "Just because you're small doesn't mean you can't fit in. When you're smaller, you have to be smarter."