Every baseball player alive has gone through a string of appearances where they’re swinging the bat well, but every ball seems to land in a fielder’s glove.
“Unfortunately that’s just baseball trying to teach you a lesson,” Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez said. “We used to call it ‘The Humbler.’ We had a chair when I was in Triple-A with the Red Sox and they had ‘The Humbler’ taped on the back of it. Whenever you’re doing things right and not having any luck, they’d just push that chair in front of your locker and remind you, ‘Hey, there’s two types of people in baseball. Those who have been humbled, and those who are about to be.’”
Rodriguez’s team has every reason to feel that it’s starting to find a groove at the plate. The Bears (5-5) delivered several timely hits late in a 6-1 win over Louisiana Tech last Sunday, then followed that game up with an offensive explosion at Globe Life Park that the Rangers would envy. Baylor pounded out a season-high 17 hits in taking a 9-1 win over UT-Arlington.
Yet Rodriguez has been around baseball long enough to know that big hits are fleeting. They come, they go. The game can humble you in a hurry. He wants his players to understand that the thing that they can most control is their effort and concentration level.
“The big hit, we have no control over that,” Rodriguez said. “You have control over the effort, the quality of the pitch, the at-bat, the swing. After that, if the guy makes a great play, you don’t have control over that. Umpire makes a bad call, you don’t have control over that. So we’re just going to control what we can.”
Baylor will try to ride its recent sweet-swinging wave into this weekend’s series with George Washington (7-6). It’s the start of a seven-game homestand for the Bears, and the first of three straight weekends that they’ll host series in the friendly confines of Baylor Ballpark.
It’s also the final weekend tuneup before Baylor opens Big 12 play, and the Bears want to be completely locked in by the time conference play rolls around.
“I think we’re starting to figure things out,” third baseman Davis Wendzel said. “We still have a lot of time and room to improve, but I like where we’re going.”
After a pair of lights-out starts against Houston Baptist and UCLA to start the season, Baylor’s Friday night ace Cody Bradford took a step back in last week’s 8-2 loss to Cal. The sophomore left-hander didn’t make it through the fifth inning, giving up six hits and six runs in 4.2 innings of work. As much as anyone, he’s itching to get back out on the mound and prove that outing was an aberration.
“I’m so anxious,” Bradford said. “Last week was kind of a little brain fart, I guess you could call it. Little mechanical problems that kind of went wrong right off the bat. And I didn’t make adjustments very well, so I’m excited to get back out there and return to the old ways.”
The Bears treated Tuesday’s game against UT-Arlington as a godsend, and it wasn’t just because of the chance to play in the Rangers’ home park. Both of Baylor’s first two midweek games were canceled because of bad weather. So, just getting in a game was a victory in itself.
“I think we were just really grateful to be out there playing,” centerfielder Richard Cunningham said. “Because you play on the weekend and you have to wait a whole week and you have to bridge that gap. And it’s just hard to keep the intensity. So getting that midweek game in, it kind of reloads your fire, and then all of a sudden Friday seems a lot closer when you get going again for another series.”
The Colonials should swing into their spring break matchup with the Bears with plenty of confidence. George Washington opened the season with only one win in its first six games, but then put together a seven-game homestand where it went 6-1 and averaged eight runs per game.
As always, though, Rodriguez wants his team to concentrate on executing the game, and not get caught up with the quality of the opponent. The Baylor coach has been relying on several freshmen in recent games, including Davion Downey and Nick Loftin. His message to them is the same one he’s preached to those older players for the past couple of years – every day is a new day. Control what you can control. Don’t get hung up on the results.
And have fun and play.
“Sometimes it goes both ways,” Rodriguez said. “Young kids are phenomenal because they don’t know any different. They go out and play. When you drop off a 4-year-old at a playground, the next thing you know they have five friends they’re playing with. They just don’t know any different.
“But then all of the sudden they start to have a little experience, start to try to change things and do things because they think that’s what is going to make them a better player, and next thing you know they start to have some difficulties. So you just have to reverse them back to, ‘Hey, just go out and play.’”
Several Baylor players are nursing injuries, including outfielder T.J. Raguse (wrist), Cunningham (hamstring), pitcher Alex Phillips (elbow) and pitcher Joe Heineman (shoulder). Cunningham has played DH in recent games, and is expected to continue in that capacity against GW. … First baseman/catcher Andy Thomas is riding a 10-game hitting streak into Friday’s game. … George Washington’s Saturday starter Elliott Raimo leads the Atlantic 10 with a 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. … Pitching matchups for the weekend are as follows: Friday – BU LHP Cody Bradford (1-1, 3.06 ERA) vs. GW RHP Brady Renner (1-1, 4.00); Saturday – BU RHP Hayden Kettler (1-2, 2.45) vs. GW RHP Elliott Raimo (1-1, 1.74); Sunday – BU LHP Tyler Thomas (0-0, 1.08) vs. GW RHP Nathan Woods (0-2, 3.00).