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Josh Eldridge - Makes Mental Adjustments To Have Success With Pilots

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: July 30, 2012
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July 30, 2012

Story on Josh Eldridge by Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Daily Press.(july 28,2012)

HAMPTON -- Whenever the Washington Nationals are playing and Old Dominion outfielder Josh Eldridge is watching the game on television with his roommate, Monarchs catcher Mike Perez, the debates can get heated.

The two will analyze each Nats at-bat and argue over what they would do if they were Ryan Zimmerman or Bryce Harper in that situation. When Eldridge, playing with the Peninsula Pilots this summer, is at the plate, he plays through the same scenarios with each pitch.

Coming off a freshman season where he led the Monarchs in batting average, hitting .316 in 30 Colonial Athletic Association games, Eldridge's mental prowess has kept his bat hot with the Pilots.

"I like to take and learn something from each at-bat," he said. "In my first at-bat, if I do get out, then I like to figure out why I got out. Like, if someone's pitching me away, just go over the ball."

Pilots coach Hank Morgan met Eldridge in the fall when he was visiting ODU's recently named baseball coach Chris Finwood. Finwood and Morgan both attended Hampton High and played the same baseball position there, though 10 years apart. They also both played at Virginia Military Institute and then both got into coaching.

When Finwood was the baseball coach at Western Kentucky, Morgan's Pilots rosters would typically have players from WKU because of their relationship. Though he'd heard about Eldridge before, Morgan wasn't sure that Eldridge would be ready for a summer with the Pilots, especially when he started his first season at ODU with a 0-for-10 slump.

"I always let Finwood drive the bus on player stuff with us because he's never steered me astray," Morgan said. "I was looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder at the last minute and Finwood said, 'Eldridge is your guy. You need to take him because he's ready.'"

Finwood didn't let Morgan down. Through Friday, Eldridge, who was named to the Coastal Plain League All-Star game, has a .306 batting average in 170 at-bats, leading the team with 28 RBIs. Eldridge strikes out more than he walks, but when he's on base, he utilizes his speed, as he's 11-of-14 on stolen base attempts.

Though it seems like Eldridge hasn't had a slump since his slow start at ODU, Morgan insists Eldridge does go through slumps like every other hitter , but his are shorter, sometimes lasting only an at-bat or two. In Thursday night's game at Wilson, Morgan said the Wilson pitchers were pitching him inside, which got him out early in the game, but after an adjustment, he was able to drive in three runs.

How does Eldridge get out of his slumps so fast? Morgan said it's those in-game adjustments he makes, watching not only his at-bats, but the at-bats of his teammates to understand what he needs to be doing differently. Morgan said that is rare for a 19-year-old.

"There's an old axiom that says what separates a good hitter from a great hitter is the length of time they allow for the slump to take place," Morgan said. "I don't know if that's a coachable thing. I just think you have to pay attention. The player needs to be willing to try something different."

With the Pilots on the edge of a playoff berth, Eldridge's bat has been one of essential parts to the late season rally. Peninsula recorded six straight wins through Friday night, currently in position for the last wild card spot if it keeps winning. In Wednesday night's win over Wilson, Eldridge had the game-winning hit.

Playing with Peninsula this summer has also given him experience as a corner outfielder, as he was a center fielder out of high school, but played at every outfield position during his freshman year at ODU. He hasn't made an error this summer, and Morgan describes him as a "serviceable" defender. But Eldridge said the experience in primarily left field will be good for him during the college season because he's not sure where in the outfield he'll land.

The Lorton, Va., native has been playing organized baseball since age 7 and going to baseball games from 3 years old. He said his dad always knew Eldridge would end up playing baseball like his older brother because he'd never want to play with the plush ball he was given, but wanted the hard baseball instead.

Though it's his mentality and focus that have made him a prolific hitter this year, Eldridge's mind fails him when he tries to remember his first at-bat or the first time he ever actually played baseball. He's just been swinging for so long.

"I really don't remember before baseball," Eldridge said. "It's just been like that since I can remember."

Copyright © 2012, Newport News, Va., Daily Press

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