In the major motion picture "Top Gun" there is a character portrayed by actor Val Kilmer with the nickname "Iceman." His character in the movie is one of the best fighter pilots in the United State Navy, mostly because no matter what happens around him in combat situations, he never lets his emotions get the best of him. He stays cool, keeps his eye on the target, and helps lead his squadron to victory in the last scene of the film.
Tamaqua sophomore Brett Kosciolek was the Raider baseball team's version of "The Iceman" in 2013. The young gun played with ice in his veins all season long, leading Tamaqua from the mound and the plate to help them capture a Schuylkill League and District 11 AAA Championship.
Kosciolek's efforts this season were also good enough to earn him the 2013 TIMES NEWS Baseball Player of the Year award.
Just a year ago, Kosciolek was an inexperienced freshman, pitching and hitting for the first time at the varsity level. Along with Kosciolek, his team also shared that same inexperience. The Raiders were 5-15 a year ago, a pretty drastic difference from the 18-8 record they collected this season.
So the question is, what changed in just one year's time that Kosciolek and his teammates were able to go on such an incredible run just one year later?
"For me personally it was all about getting stronger," said Kosciolek. "I definitely spent more time lifting in the offseason and I just gained more confidence by playing throughout the summer. The more you play and the better you get, the more you start to believe in yourself. I think that's what happened with me and a lot of our guys."
Tamaqua head coach Jeff Reading also believes that experience and confidence had a lot to do with Kosciolek's improvements as well as the overall improvement of the team.
"Brett had a darn good year as a freshman pitching, fielding, and hitting wise," said Reading. "He batted in the mid .300 range and also had success from the mound. What people don't understand is that we were a very competitive ball club last year. We lost about five one-run ball games and those losses just came down to being young. The guys knew what we had to do, Brett knew what he had to do, and they came through this year."
Kosciolek certainly did whatever he could do to try and help the Raiders win ball games. The 6-7, 191-pound flamethrower went 7-2, pitching 56.2 innings, striking out 81, while compiling a 1.48 ERA.
If you think that's impressive, look at his numbers from the plate. Kosciolek batted .417, collected 35 hits, knocked in 27 runs, all while smashing eight home runs.
"Another thing that people don't realize is how good of an all-around baseball player Brett is," said Reading. "Yes, he's a very good pitcher, but he's a great hitter and a good fielder too. Brett is the kind of kid that has all the right intangibles. He's always thinking a step ahead.
"As a staff we never have to yell at him, because if he makes a mistake he's always in the mindset of fixing that mistake on the next play. He never lets anything get to him and that's how you have to be if you really want to excel at this game."
Another mark of an elite athlete is if they can learn from each practice, each game, or even each year and take that and become better for it.
"When I first came into varsity baseball last year I found out right away that the hitters were much better than what I had faced in the past," said Kosciolek. "So, after my freshman season I did whatever I could do to prepare myself to be ready to deal with that same competition. I played a lot of baseball in the offseason against good competition and I also added a new pitch that's a mix between a cutter and a slider."
Some would say winning such an award as TIMES NEWS Baseball Player of the Year at such a young age would put some added pressure on Kosciolek heading into next season. However, in typical "Iceman" fashion Kosciolek expressed that he really doesn't let those type of things creep into his head.
"I'm not really worried about any of that stuff," said Kosciolek. "I'm worried about getting better each and every day I play the game whether I'm pitching or I'm at the plate. If I'm on the mound my job is to put my team in the best position to win and if I'm at the plate my job is to get quality at-bats.
"I just want to continue to get better, so I can help my teammates go on another great run like we did this year. It was tons of fun doing what we did and I know for a fact we all want to do it again."