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Tommy's Time: How Hoosier pitcher Tommy Sommer strives to share a legacy with his father at Indiana

It’s almost as if Indiana junior left hand pitcher Tommy Sommer was born to be great.

He grew up in a household with his mom Susie, a state champion softball player at Center Grove High School in Greenwood Indiana, while his father, Juergen, had created a legacy during his time at IU. Juergen Sommer walked on to the Indiana men's soccer team in 1987 and the rest was history. As a Hoosier, Juergen contributed to a national championship in 1988. In 1990 he was named Soccer American Goalkeeper of the Year, and he is third all-time at Indiana in saves and victories. This led to a professional playing and coaching career for Sommer.

The Hoosier Network contributor Austin Render got a chance to sit down with the father and son and discuss Juergen’s time at Indiana and Tommy’s recent success with Hoosiers baseball program. 

Tommy was about 13 or 14 years old when he began to realize what his father had accomplished not only at Indiana but at a professional level. Tommy was able to go to many soccer events at Indiana and meet a lot of people in the sports industry.

"Every year my dad is a part of something really unique or special that I really admire and respect about him that I realize what he actually really did accomplish and the respect other people have for him.”

- Tommy Sommer, on sharing his father's legacy

While Tommy was not known for his soccer skills as a kid, Juergen remembers his wife Susie duct taping Tommy’s right hand to his hip so he would throw left handed. This clearly paid off in the long run. Baseball was something that Tommy fell in love with as a child and was something he always wanted to do.

Juergen and Susie began to notice Tommy had a future in sports when they would go all across the country for travel baseball. Juergen quickly recognized that Tommy was doing all the little things right and things that you would normally have to ask or remind a kid to do on and off the field. Tommy had the work, dedication and attention to detail in his blood.

Juergen also had to work hard and show dedication during his days at Indiana, as he walked on to the team. The former four-year starter will always credit and thank Hall of Fame head coach Jerry Yeagley for giving him a chance to prove himself.

Jerry Yeagley coached the Hoosiers men’s soccer team from 1973-2003 and led the team to 544 victories and six NCAA National Championships. Yeagley is considered to be one of the greatest collegiate men’s soccer coaches of all time. 
“He was willing to take chances on people and he rewarded the athletes that performed for him whether you were a highly recruited athlete or you just showed up and walked on like I did. So, it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had in sports.” 
- Juergen on Hall of Fame coach Jerry Yeagley

Juergen at a 2004 MLS All Star Event. (The Sommer family)

Juergen didn't even think of a professional career as an option until Yeagley gave him the opportunity and made the path possible. This led to Juergen being able to compete on the 1994 and 1998 United States World Cup teams and in 1995 Jurgen became the first American goalkeeper to play in the English Premier League as he signed with the Queens Park Rangers. It paved the way for American goalkeepers in the Premier League such as Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller.

Juergen has the utmost admiration for coach Yeagley and compares the Hoosiers’ baseball head coach Jeff Mercer to him — a pretty honorable comparison. 
“The passion, the fire, and you can see the fire in his belly, the level of competition...remind me a lot of the first-class program Jerry and Marilyn Yeagley, his wife, put together at IU.”

- Juergen on baseball head coach Jeff Mercer

Mercer, who is now in his third year at Indiana won Big Ten Coach of the Year in his first year at the helm when the Hoosier won the Big Ten regular-season title in 2019 and lost in the Louisville Regional of the NCAA tournament.

It is extremely high praise to compare Mercer to men's soccer coaching great Jerry Yeagley, but as Juergen said there is a fire under the coach and as the Hoosiers begin the season 10-2 in the midst of a three-game series against Michigan State in East Lansing, the hopes and expectations for Indiana baseball are higher than ever. 

Tommy pitching as a little leaguer. (The Sommer family)

Tommy, who was late to fully commit to the Hoosiers out of high school, wanted to go through the whole recruitment process before deciding where to continue his academic and athletic career. Juergen never wanted to push Tommy to go to IU in saying, “he’s got to want to be there."

The 6-foot-4 lefty pitcher has confirmed he made the right choice, stressing how important to him it has been to be close to family and his home in Carmel, Indiana. Tommy has been a critical part of the Hoosiers’ success of late and has been on fire to start the season. The lefty has the best ERA among Hoosier starting pitchers this season — in four starts Sommer has a 3-0 record, an ERA of 1.85, a WHIP of 1.08, and a team second-best 27 strikeouts.

Tommy Sommer’s 2021 Appearances:

  • 3/5 VS. Minnesota 

    • 8.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10 K’s, 2 BB; on 26 batters faced

    • Hoosiers won 5-2

    • Named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week

  • 3/13 VS. Penn State

    • 4.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 K’s, 4  BB; on 20 batters faced

    • Hoosiers won 7-2

  • 3/19 VS. Purdue 

    • 6.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 12 K’s, 4 BB; on 28 batters faced

    • Hoosiers won 2-1

  • 3/26 VS. Michigan State

    • 5.0 IP, 6 H, 2R, 2 K's, 3 BB; on 23 batters faced

    • Hoosiers won 8-2

Tommy will be critical to the Hoosiers’ success this season — the time is now his.

Juergen, Tommy, and Susie during Tommy's time at Indiana. (The Sommer family)

Over the winter Tommy stressed rounding out his game, working on solidifying his mechanics, and developing a cutter. Sommer’s new cutter works great at forcing ground balls, getting swings and misses, as well as jamming left handed hitters.

The lefty’s fastball coupled with the changeup has always been his bread and butter but it opens up his game when he can use both sides of the plate with the off-speed. Tommy stresses commanding fastballs to both sides of the plate to open up his off-speed, getting weak contact early in at-bats and keeping his pitch count low. Tommy is masterful at getting out of jams, using his fielders to his advantage, and controlling his pitch count. The 2021 season is still early but Sommer’s early numbers and improvements show that he is here to stay and will continue to be a force in the Big Ten.
Juergen knows what it takes to get to a championship level as he did back in 1988. Juergen even jokingly said, “I don’t think I went to class for a week after” winning the national championship in Bloomington. Juergen wants his son to embrace the challenge of a COVID-19 season as well as show leadership. 
”The bottom half of the roster is really what’s really gonna help you win a championship or go far in a tournament.”

- Juergen on his experience and advice to give to Tommy

Juergen stresses the importance of building a relationship with the younger guys on the roster and building the same sense of passion and commitment to the sport that the Indiana men’s soccer team had under the helm of Jerry Yeagley. Juergen sees that fire and passion in Mercer and his own son. 

Juergen said that he “couldn’t be prouder” of his son and his accomplishments on the field and in the classroom at his alma mater. The Sommer family has greatness, accomplishments and hard work in their blood. His father had his time in Bloomington, and now Tommy looks to create his own legacy at Indiana. The tools, athleticism, talent, work ethic and passion are all there and it’s starting to show on the field.

From father to son and champion to champion, the time is now Tommy’s.

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