There is one thing you cannot develop or produce in baseball – speed. It’s a God-given ability that separates the men from the boys.

Just ask former Kansas City Royals manager Whitey Herzog, who once said of a struggling rookie named Willie Wilson, “With his speed, if he could just steal first base he’d be something special.”

He maintained his speed and developed a keen hitting eye that helped him earn an American League batting title and a spot in the Royals Hall of Fame. He was also a stolen base champion and the Royals all-time stolen base king.

Negro Leagues Baseball pitcher and Kansas City sports icon Satchel Paige once said about Negro League speedster James “Cool Papa” Bell, “Cool Papa was so fast, that he could turn off the light in a room and be in bed before it got dark.”

Zack Ehlen isn’t Willie Wilson fast, and no one is a Cool Papa Bell speedster, but the Grain Valley High School grad is close.

On his last day as an Eagle, he was the target of a water balloon attack that left most participants soaked.

Ehlen walked away bone dry

“He’s the fastest kid I’ve ever seen or coached,” Grain Valley baseball coach Brian Driskell said. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that Grain Valley may never have another student athlete like Zack. He not only participated in four sports – he starred in four sports. And he got the job done in the classroom, too.”

Ehlen lettered four years in baseball and football, three in basketball and two in track field, where he holds the school mark in the 100-meter dash (10.75 seconds), 200-meter dash (22.11) and the indoor 55-yard dash (6.66, which he set at the University of Central Missouri Relays).

His 102 base hits are tops in Eagles baseball history and helped him get a scholarship to State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo.

After starring for two years at State Fair, Ehlen recently committed to play baseball at NCAA Division II and MIAA powerhouse Central Missouri.

“I’m excited about going to UCM and they seem excited that I’m going there,” said Ehlen, who is playing in the MINK League this summer for the Joplin Outlaws along with former Grain Valley and State Fair teammate Kyle Clark. “They’ve won so many championships, it’s kind of become a way of life for the Mules. When I said I can’t wait to get there, Coach (Kyle) Crookes said, ‘Get ready to dogpile.’ That kind of got me fired up.”

Ehlen hit .350 his freshman year at State Fair, and followed it with a .299 average and 34 stolen bases as a sophomore. His total of 34 thefts put him among the top 10 junior college base stealers in the country.

“They like my speed,” Ehlen said. “I’ve been able to bulk up, put on about 20 pounds, and maintain my speed. I know how important speed is in baseball and I’ve worked to make sure it’s a big part of my game.”

While Ehlen dreamed of Division I baseball glory, he is thrilled to be joining a Mules program that has enjoyed nothing but success for decades.

“I did want to go Division I,” Ehlen said, “but it didn’t’ happen. Talent-wise, I hear UCM has Division I talent and I’m excited that they thought I could help the program. And it’s only 45 minutes down the highway so my family can come see me play all the time. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”