In the high-powered contemporary world of major-college athletics, Brett Lisher is an anomaly — a walk-on who starts.
Lisher is the regular first baseman on Kansas University’s baseball team.
“It’s been special to watch,” KU coach Ritch Price said of Lisher’s emergence. “He’s a great kid who has made unbelievable progress.”
Not only has the 5-foot-11, 195-pounder won the first-base job, he leads the Jayhawks in batting (.400) and is second in RBIs (18) going into this weekend’s Big 12 Conference openers at Baylor.
Lisher didn’t come out of nowhere to ascend to such heights, but he didn’t offer much foreshadowing, either.
As a junior last year, the former Free State High standout hit .300, yet played in only about a third of the Jayhawks’ games, and practically all were against non-conference opponents.
Here he is, though, making an unexpected impact for the Jayhawks.
“I’ve just been pushed by my teammates,” Lisher said, “and I’ve worked really hard.”
There is work, there is hard work and there is really hard work, and if there is a higher category of work then Lisher may be listed.
“I was talking to (son) Ryne the other night,” Price said, “and he said, ‘How about how hard (Lisher) has worked?’”
Mike Hill, who coached Lisher for three years at Free State, chimes in, echoing the hard-work theme.
“What he’s done is a testament to his work ethic,” Hill said. “He’s been able to maximize what he did well, which was hit.”
Lisher doesn’t boast a strong arm, his wheels are average at best and he’s more of a gap hitter than a fence buster.
“He played outfield for us,” Hill said. “We tried him at catcher, and that didn’t work out. But he’s worked hard to learn to play first base.”
A senior on Free State’s 2006 Class 6A state championship team, Lisher had hopes of joining KU’s baseball program right out of high school.
“There was some talk about that,” Hill said in recollection, “and I know he was disappointed when that didn’t happen, but he was willing to go to Allen County to work on his craft.”
Two seasons at the community college in Iola produced high batting averages — .364 his sophomore year — but they weren’t high enough to earn a KU scholarship. So Lisher walked on and, for the most part, sat last spring.
“A lot of guys get deterred when they’re walk-ons,” Hill said. “Those are me-guys, and you don’t win championships with those guys.”
Me-guys also think they have it made. Not Lisher, not even with his new-found success.
“There aren’t any spots engraved in stone,” Lisher said. “When you’re a walk-on, you have to earn what you get.”
Price thinks enough of Lisher that he has already promised him a job as a student assistant coach next season, a post Lisher hopes to use as a springboard to an eventually head coaching job.
That would make two coaches in the family. Lisher’s father, Bob, is Free State High’s football coach.