by Adam Prescott
A tall, quiet, gangly young man patrols the confines of Fishbaugh Field with the number 26 stretched across his uniform. For the past two seasons, Thomas Linder ’14 has sprinted out to his position in right field, like many others have before him. However, the time spent within the fences lies deeper with Linder, who is carrying on a family legacy inside the sanctuary that his grandfather built.
Linder is the grandson of legendary Otterbein baseball coach Dick Fishbaugh, who accumulated 624 victories over 34 seasons before a heart attack took his life in 1999. He was inducted into the Otterbein Hall of Fame in 2008.
Fishbaugh’s number 26 jersey was retired shortly after his passing, and the baseball complex was named in his honor on Oct. 17, 2004. Linder, who was just 12 years old at the time, made the decision to attend Otterbein while on campus for the naming ceremony.
“I was really young when he died, but one of my favorite memories was going over to his house and having him pretend to crack an egg on my head,” Linder said. “I would always ask him to do that because I thought it was funny. Then I came to campus and saw the impact he had within his profession, and it completely lit my desire to carry on our family tradition.”
Linder entered the baseball program with a vision to wear number 26 in honor of his grandfather. Since the number had been retired for 11 seasons, Thomas was given a temporary number 27 while his number 26 jersey was being ordered, but it seemed unlikely that the jersey would arrive in time for the beginning of the season. However, the night before the home opener, Linder stumbled across his grandfather’s old number 26 pinstriped jersey while doing laundry in his grandmother’s basement.
“I’m wearing this tomorrow,” he said to his family after emerging from the basement with the jersey.
So when he entered the game as the left-fielder in the seventh inning the following day, he was wearing 26. Not just any 26, but the same jersey worn for so many Cardinal victories, a jersey that fit the freshman like it was tailored for him.
“It means a great deal for me to wear it here at Otterbein,” Linder said. “It’s also amazing to see the emblem on the back of our hats that say “Fish” and for people to still know who he is. I love the way that Coach Powell has continued to make sure people understand the tradition my grandpa started here.”
“Having that respect for your family says something about the type of individual he is,” said Linder’s mother, Karen Fishbaugh Linder ’80. “It warms my heart to know that he thinks of his grandpa like that.”
Karen Linder had stellar volleyball and softball careers at Otterbein. Her achievements garnered a 2009 Otterbein Athletic Hall of Fame induction, completing the first father-daughter Hall of Fame combination in school history.
“I remember being in fifth grade and walking across Westerville after school to be with my dad for baseball practice,” Karen Linder said. “My dad would let me catch for him during batting practice, and would wake me up at 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings to take me on road trips with the team. I would sit in the dugout and work as the batgirl, and then keep the scorebook as I got older. It was just amazing to be a part of that.”
Karen Linder joined Kent State University in 1997 as head softball coach and became the winningest coach in school history by 2007. Having just completed her 16th season for the Golden Flashes, she and her father are the only father-daughter combination in NCAA history to each win 600 games as baseball and softball coaches.
Otterbein baseball head coach George Powell, who recently completed his 13th season at the helm, sees a lot to like in the grandson. “He possesses all of the physical tools that help make him a natural gifted player, but it’s how he’s dealt with bad games or initial sporadic playing time that’s impressed me the most,” Powell said. “He always maintains a positive attitude and mature personality.”
Powell served as Coach Fishbaugh’s first graduate assistant in the mid-1990s. “Outside of my parents, Coach Fishbaugh had the biggest impact on my life of anyone I’ve ever met,” Powell continued.
Thomas Linder started 20 games in his inaugural season before experiencing a breakout year in 2012, hitting .367 and posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage en route to All-Ohio Athletic Conference honors. His spring was highlighted by a 25-game hitting streak, the longest in NCAA Division III that season.
He can’t help but wonder what thoughts or advice his grandfather would have watching him play on the diamond.
“I think about it all the time,” he said. “I have so many family members that come to games, so it’s basically like an extension of him. They tell me every day what he would have said to me or done in a certain situation.”
One person who rarely gets to watch him play is his mother, who is commonly tied up with her own season at Kent State during the same days Thomas is playing. But that doesn’t mean she is out of the loop.
“It’s frustrating that I really don’t get the opportunity to see him play, but it makes me feel good to know that my mom, brother, and sister are always in tune with what he’s doing, or listening on the Internet,” she explained. “They keep me filled in with updates and sometimes I find myself checking my phone between innings of my own game.”
Her son also hopes to follow in his grandfather’s and mother’s footsteps. A sport management major, Thomas Linder hopes to someday teach and coach.
So as family, friends, and fans continue to remember the legacy of Dick Fishbaugh, perhaps the best reminder is that tall, quiet, gangly young man patrolling the confines of Fishbaugh Field with the number 26 stretched across his uniform. As he strives to reach his ultimate goal of winning an OAC Championship and receive the tournament’s MVP award, which also happens to be named after his grandfather, he carries a little piece of his grandfather onto the Otterbein baseball diamond with him every day, right where they both belong.