CATLIN — Salt Fork graduate Gage Romack always thought he was meant to play baseball.
His love for the game started at a very early age and with the help of his father, Gary Romack, his skills developed over time.
"My dad always gave me the right push that I needed,'' Gage Romack said. "He used to play when he was younger and I think that pushed me to get better.
"Over the years, he has taken me to pitching camps to work on my form. He wanted to make sure that my arm didn't get destroyed. He has always been there for me.''
Learning the proper mechanics, like doing the orchestra — which is a movement where the pitcher gets proper extension in his arm — allowed Romack to throw more than an average kid his age.
"I could only pitch on one day, which was typically Sundays, and I could only throw three innings per game. I actually would pitch in like three games or basically nine innings every Sunday,'' Romack said.
And that didn't hurt your arm"
"No, because I would always ice it right after pitching and I really kept it in a good condition,'' he said. "I believe my arm got used to it. And it was only that one day, I would be able to rest my arm the other six days during the week.''
He was never called upon to throw that much this season for Salt Fork, and it would also be against the IHSA pitch count rules.
But the right-hander still made quite an impression this season with the Storm, who went 24-5, claiming the outright Vermilion Valley Conference title to go along with an IHSA Class 1A regional championship and an IHSA Class 1A sectional championship.
Ottawa Marquette halted Salt Fork's run to the state tournament with a 10-4 win the super-sectional at Illinois Wesleyan.
"Losing in the super-sectional is not exactly how I wanted it to end,'' Romack admitted. "But knowing the team that we lost to (Marquette) won the state championship fairly easily, did help out a little bit.''
During his senior season, Romack earned all-state honors for the second year in a row. He batted .413 with 38 hits and 30 RBIs; additionally, Romack finished with eight victories, a 1.47 ERA in 47.7 innings and he had an area-best 79 strikeouts.
For his accomplishments, Romack has been named the 2019 Commercial-News Baseball Player of the Year.
"After the summer that I had last year with Post 210, I as pretty confident with the changes that I had made to pitching mechanics,,'' he said. "The key for me to have a really great season was all about my hitting.''
And the addition of Geoff Desmond as head coach at Salt Fork — one of the top hitting coaches in East Central Illinois — was definitely something that Romack was looking forward to this past season.
"I had only hard good things about coach Desmond and from the first day, we all just followed his lead,'' Romack said.
While winning the conference title, a regional championship and sectional championship were all major feats for the Storm, they still felt short of that ultimate goal of being a state champion.
"The seniors, myself included, wanted to go out with a bang. We wanted to give Salt Fork, it's first state baseball title,'' he said. "And as the year went on, I really started to believe that it was possible. We had a consistent lineup and then we had Matthew and myself on the mound.''
Senior Matthew Wrozsek, who also had eight victories and 0.95 ERA to go with 78 strikeouts, was also a finalist for the player of the year award. Other players considered were Salt Fork senior Kotah Broeker, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin senior Chase Rademacher and Covington senior Logun Freed.
Baseball wasn't the only sport for Romack during his high school days.
He was also the starting quarterback for the football team, helping the Storm to 6-4 record and an appearance in the IHSA Class 1A playoffs. During his senior season on the gridiron, Romack completed 82 of 160 passes for 1,295 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"Just like baseball, I started playing football at a young age,'' Romack said. "It was fun, because it gave me a chance to hit someone and score touchdowns.
"It became a brotherhood more than anything. You would go onto the field and fight for your guys.''
While Romack said he never considered giving up baseball, he did almost forego his final year of football.
"I thought about it,'' said Romack. "I knew I was going to college to play baseball and I didn't want to get hurt. But, there was no way that I was giving up on my guys.''
Next year, Romack will be attending Danville Area Community College where he will be a member of the Jaguars baseball program, joining 2017 Commercial-News Baseball Players of the Year, Skylar Bolton and Chase Vinson from Oakwood.
And he already knows what he wants to do in college.
"I'm going to major in either sports medicine or athletic training,'' he said.
Why is that?
"I want to stay around sports,'' he said. "Even if I'm not playing, I can stay around the game.
"Ideally, I would like to focus on baseball.''
Staying close to home is a good thing for Romack, who admits that his family, Gary, Vicki and Chance Romack, have always been there for him.
"They are the ones that have kept me on a straight and narrow,'' Gage said. "Sometimes when you are high school kid, you would like some time away from you family and some freedom — but most of the time it has been a good thing.''
Outside of athletics, Romack admits to a pretty vanilla lifestyle which is appropriate.
"I'm not a big chocolate guy,'' said Romack, who took a few cooking classes at Salt Fork. "I used to be a big candy guy and a real big chocolate guy. But, when I got into high school, I stopped like it and I became a vanilla guy.''
Does he have a specialty when it comes to cooking?
"I can make a really good breakfast and I'm good with fried chicken and grilled chicken,'' he said. "Actually, I can fry or grill almost anything.''
While cooking is a pretty good hobby, Romack remains focused on baseball.
Kotah Broeker`senior`Salt Fork
Graham Eighner, senior`Hoopeston Area
Gage Romack`senior`Salt Fork
Payton Taylor`junior`Salt Fork
Matthew Wrzosek`senior`Salt Fork
Lucas Hofer` junior`Hoopeston Area
Alex Tallman`senior`North Vermillion
Honorable mention — Justice Arthur, sophomore, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman; Kieler Bennett, junior, Salt Fork; Rance Bryant, sophomore, Schlarman Academy; Brady Cutrell, senior, Covington; Garrett Drake, junior, Seeger; Carson Eberly, sophomore, Fountain Central; Ethan Edwards, sophomore, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin; Dawson Getts, senior, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin; Zach Gritten, sophomore, Salt Fork; Nick Hofer, freshman, Hoopeston Area; Hayden Hoskins, senior, Seeger; Brady Howard, sophomore, Oakwood; Wade Huddleston, junior, Schlarman Academy Ayden LaMar, junior, Danville; Josh Little, junior, North Vermillion; Gaven Lund, junior, Armstrong-Potomac; Damian Miles, junior, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman; Kaden Mingee, freshman, Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman; Corey Moore, senior, Hoopeston Area; Michael Moreman, junior, Danville; Hunter Powell, senior, Armstrong-Potomac; Wyatt Reynolds, junior, North Vermillion; Alec Schaumburg, senior, Westville; Brody Sexton, sophomore, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin; Bradley Slider, senior, Covington; Jake Smith, junior, Fountain Central; Jacob Spear, sophomore, Oakwood; Jackson Sprague, sophomore, Seeger; Miklo Strader, senior, Danville; Luke Taylor, senior, Covington; Cooper Watson, junior, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin; Josh Weller, junior, Salt Fork.