Boyd looks away to end hitting slump

According to Alabama first baseman Brent Boyd, there's no such thing as superstition when you're in a hitting slump. <br><br>After all, Boyd would know--he was in the midst of a 1-for-22 lull headed into the recent SEC Tournament in Hoover, which included a 0-for-13 streak when Bama was swept at LSU during the last weekend of the regular season.

Boyd had put all that behind him with his MVP performance in last weekend's SEC Tournament--at least he thought he had. "Frankly, I had kind of forgotten that until you guys brought it up," said Boyd, joking with reporters Sunday. "I thought that was put way behind me, and then you guys bring it up again.

Despite only hitting .288 overall, Boyd's MVP performance last week proves the veteran first baseman is on a roll.

"Two days of practice in hitting really helped me out. I practiced and practiced with Coach Wells and Coach Gatewood and Coach Watkins. All of them were concerned about me. They knew for us to be successful I was going to have to hit. Otherwise they'd just walk (Scott) McClanahan and Jeremy (Brown) to get to me. I knew I had to come through with some hits."

Forget superstitions. One thing a hitting slump does is make a player open to suggestions. "When you're hitting the ball, that's when you don't want to change things up," says Boyd. "That's when guys can get real superstitious."

In the days leading up to the conference tournament, Boyd sat down with coach Jim Wells and discussed what was wrong with Boyd's swing. They reviewed video footage of his at-bats and agreed that Boyd was pulling the ball and looking for pitches solely on the inner portion of the plate.

Boyd explained, "All year I've been hard-headed about my hitting in not listening and trying to do things that I wasn't accustomed to doing--hitting the ball out of the ball park. Finally I looked at some numbers and realized that I wasn't doing well. Coach Wells finally embedded that into my head. I adjusted a little bit and I was successful."

In fact, Wells said the reason his team struggled offensively at LSU was because the entire team was trying too hard to pull the ball while the Tigers were pitching the Tide on the outer part of the plate.

Boyd waves to the fans during Sunday's post-game celebration.

"How we won 44 games pulling the ball is beyond me," Wells said. "The teams that have beaten us pitch us away. We have a lineup filled with guys that love to pull the ball. You have to go away to beat us."

Boyd has taken advantage of extra batting practice and the over-analysis of his hitting stroke. His consciousness of the outside part of the plate led to seven hits and three walks during Alabama's run to the SEC Tournament championship, including a crucial two-strike homerun in the Tide's 7-4 win Thursday over the Florida Gators.

For the tournament, Boyd was 7-of-15 for a .467 average, including three RBI. Following the Tide's 6-2 victory over South Carolina in Sunday's championship game, Boyd was named to the All-Tournament Team and tournament MVP. "The championship means a bunch," Boyd said. "This is the way I wanted to go out. We wanted to win this tournament and get that trophy. As seniors we knew we had a pretty good ball club coming back. We wanted to make a difference this year. After winning (Sunday), I think the young guys realize it now, and that will make us a better team."

"It was fitting for Brent to win (the MVP)," Wells said. "Actually, it would have been fitting for any of our seniors to win that award. They're all deserving, but I'm very happy for Brent. He had a great tournament. It was a good team effort, and any of (our players) could have gotten it--especially the seniors."

A second baseman for most of his Tide career, Boyd took his defensive skills to first base midway through the 2002 season.

In his recent tournament explosion, Boyd has raised his batting average from .267 to .288. Even if Boyd's slump had continued, Wells says he'd still have confidence in his No. 5 hitter.

"Brent's a solid kid and I have confidence in him," Wells said. "The LSU weekend was difficult for him, but he's the type of guy that will hit .260 in the regular season and hit .360 in the post-season. I'm not worried about his hitting. He's gonna hit."

"He worked real hard coming off the LSU series," Tide catcher Jeremy Brown said. "All types of things go through your head when you're going through a slump like that. But we've all been behind him the whole time and we knew he'd get out of it soon."

Boyd is quick to point out that just because he had a good tournament, it doesn't mean his slump has come to an end. He says he doesn't want to jinx it.

So much for superstitions.

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