In the grand scheme of things, 150 at-bats doesn’t seem like a lot in baseball. But to a college baseball player, it can be a difference maker.
That’s why a dozen or so of Old Dominion University’s baseball players have packed their bags and headed for wood-bat leagues this summer. The at-bats are that important.
“The natural progression of baseball that can be accomplished with 400 at-bats is amazing at times,” said ODU baseball coach Chris Finwood. “But in reality you can only get about 250 at-bats in a college season. So those extra 150 at-bats you pick up in the summer can be a turning point.”
Say you get to the college game and you struggle some at the start. Maybe it’s the pressure of college baseball, the new level, the step up in pitching that you’re facing. And maybe that first year doesn’t go quite like you expected. The cheap hits can’t be found. The 0-for-4 game is followed by an 0-for-3. The average takes a hit. The confidence takes a hit. And taking a hit is a weird way of describing it because in reality you’d trade your favorite goldfish for a hit right about then.
Then comes the summer.
“Everybody likes opening day because essentially everybody’s batting 1.000,” Finwood said. “It’s a chance to turn the page.”
Jordan Negrini is a perfect example. Negrini struggled early this past spring and had to go on a tear at the end of the season just to get his average to a respectable .275 by year’s end. But since landing with the Peninsula Pilots of the Coastal Plains League, he’s had basically the hottest bat in the league.
Negrini is one of four Monarchs playing this summer for the Pilots, joined by Tyler Urps, Connor Myers and Taylor Ostrich. A fifth Monarch should join the Pilots’ ranks in the next few days as pitcher Brett Harris returns to the mound after his second Tommy John elbow surgery.
He will do it with the blessing Finwood, who says managing his players during the summer is just as important as what happens in the fall and the spring. Finwood is in constant contact with the Monarchs, whether they are playing summer ball or taking summer classes.
“It’s our approach to it all,” Finwood said. “If you are in the program you are expected to either play in the summer or take six hours of classes during the summer. One way or another, you’re getting some baseball work in, whether it’s with a summer league team or by working out on campus.”
So while Josh Eldridge pines away in the regaled Cape Cod League, other teammates pine away in the library, including some incoming freshmen who will wear the ODU pinstripes for real next spring. (Eldridge, by the way, is the first Monarch playing in the Cape Cod League since Dan Hudson in 2008).
Finwood, however, didn’t set his big three pitchers – his conference game starters, so to speak – his the summer circuit.
“The way I see it, if you went 70 innings or more during our season, you don’t need to be pitching in the summer,” Finwood said.
A lot of ODU’s players will have lower batting averages in the summer leagues than in the college season, and it’s all about the bat. The wooden bat is a challenge to many a player.
“The league average in the Cape Cod League is about .220,” Finwood said. “First, you have the wooden bats. Then there is the fact that it’s a pitcher’s league where some of the best pitchers in the nation end up.”
Lower batting averages don’t mean sub-par performances. Finwood has seen players come back from the summer with new pride and comfort.
“That’s the positive of it, the lack of structure,” Finwood said. “The players are out on their own, left to figure it out themselves. Batting practice isn’t mandatory. You come in from a road trip and get home at 4 a.m. from a game and your coach doesn’t expect you in the batting cage at a certain hour the next day. He expects you on the field at 7 o’clock ready to play. So you find your way.
“There’s less of an edge. The pressure of college baseball isn’t riding on every at-bat. It can be a very good thing.”
Looking to catch up on the Monarchs? You can check out the Pilots’ schedule online, but here’s a game you may think about catching. Next Wednesday, July 3, the Pilots host the Wilson Tobs, who have yet another Monarch (Josiah Burney) playing for them. Game time is 7:05 at War Memorial Stadium in Newport News.