Many pitchers might as well be statues at the plate. Three fastballs down the middle – boom, boom, boom – and they’re trudging back to the dugout. Even at the high school level, pitchers are often quite meek with bats in hand.
Then there’s Nick Jones.
Three fastballs down the middle – boom, boom, boom – and they’re trudging back to the dugout. Even at the high school level, pitchers are often quite meek with bats in hand.
Then there’s Nick Jones.
The Woodridge left-hander doubles as one of the premier hitters in the state. In a mere 56 at-bats this season, he’s hitting .530 with 19 RBI, 28 runs, five doubles and area-best seven home runs. Equally impressive are his pitching statistics – a 3-2 record, 1.02 ERA with 48 strikeouts and just six walks in 27 2/3 innings.
The versatile senior generally batted leadoff last season, but graduations took a toll and he’s hit third in 2008. That’s where coach Dennis Dever prefers to place his slugger.
“He’s definitely a better middle-of-the-lineup hitter for us,” Dever says. “He hits for power and he has a great on-base percentage, but there have been times when we’ve had people on base and no one has been able to knock them in. Moving Nick down in the order, we’re getting a lot more RBI opportunities and he’s knocking in runs left and right.”
One might think Jones was far more selective at the plate as a leadoff hitter. After all, the primary consideration at that spot is working one’s way on base. But he tells a different story.
“Actually, it’s the opposite,” explains Jones, who plays centerfielder when he’s not on the mound. “A lot of guys who pitch against me like to throw curveballs, but when I batted leadoff they didn’t want to walk me, so they threw me a lot of fastballs to get ahead in the count. I was actually more aggressive because the fastball is my favorite pitch. Batting in the No. 3 hole, I’m a lot more selective.”
Something is certainly working. Jones was “disappointed” when he batted “only” .380 as a freshman. He gained 30 pounds during that offseason, then catapulted his average to .527 in 2006 and .478 a year ago. Jones now appears to be headed to his finest season.
Such lofty numbers befit one who is passionate about the game. Jones has played cornerback and wideout for the Woodridge football team, but admits he’s not particularly blessed on the gridiron nor does he boast a burning desire to compete in that sport. He might not have played football at all if his friends hadn’t been on the team.
Baseball? That’s a different story.
“Baseball is the best game there is,” Jones exclaims. “It’s fun to play and it’s hard to play and when you’re good at it, it’s more fun. It’s not only fun, but it’s exciting to go out there and win games.”
The Bulldogs have done plenty of that, reaching the Division III Sweet Sixteen in each of the last two seasons, but Jones admits than anything short of a state berth in 2008 will prove quite disappointing.
Dever believes Jones, who throws a mid-80s fastball, sharp curve and quite effective change-up as one of his team’s three main starters, has the talent and personality to lead the charge both physically and emotionally.
“He’s very enthusiastic about baseball,” Dever says. “He’s very driven to succeed and does a great job of inspiring his teammates. He’s extremely vocal and very knowledgeable about the game for an 18-year-old.”
That learning curve should continue to be raised. Jones has earned a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art and Design, an NAIA school that boasts a tough schedule. Jones could have latched on to a Division I program elsewhere, but preferred to play baseball in the south, where the seasons are long and the competition is strong.
Only one hitch – now he must learn a little something about art and design. He doesn’t consider himself a particularly creative person in such endeavors, but he has taken an interest.
“I’m looking to major in advertising design, which is all done on computers,” Jones explains. “That’s better for me because I’m definitely not an artsy guy.”
The art of hitting and pitching? That’s another matter.