State of the Hogs: Natural Leader

James McCann left a lasting impression in the Cape Cod Baseball League -- and may have helped the Hogs find a new assistant coach.

Outfielder Jacob Morris has some big shoes to fill this summer for the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He's following Zack Cox and James McCann.

New Arkansas assistant baseball coach Scott Burss, who has helped coach Cotuit the last three years, has seen the way Cox and McCann have both played and lived the last two summers while playing with the Kettleers.

"Of course, they are great players," Burss said. "But it's not just that. The way they interacted with their host families and the way they represented the Arkansas baseball program in all areas was fantastic.

"I told our league officials at the end of the summer that we should just invite the entire Arkansas team here next year if they are anything like these two players. Cox and McCann were just that impressive to all of us."

Reynolds is one of four Razorbacks on the tentative Cape rosters for the 2011 summer league. Pitcher DJ Baxendale and outfielder Matt Reynolds are slated to play with Yarmouth-Dennis. Pitcher Ryne Stanek is on the Bourne roster. Rosters will change through the spring as evaluations continue.

Burss, who coached last year at Northwestern, Okla., State, joined the Arkansas staff this spring as the volunteer assistant, replacing Chris Curry, now head coach at Meridian, Miss., Community College. He credits Cox and McCann in some respects for the call from Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn.

"It's not been mentioned, but I believe Dave had to have talked with Zack and James about me," Burss said. "Because I know what he has to think of them and their opinions."

McCann said he learned from Burss and from his experience in Cape Cod. But he didn't take advantage of one of the obvious perks. He didn't eat the lobster.

"Oh, it's there and lots of it," McCann said. "But I don't eat shellfish. I learned to love the clam chowder. It's the best there anywhere. I ate that a lot. My host family had lobster for me one night and I hated to tell them I don't eat it. "I ate some shrimp last year at LSU and got food poisoning. So I just stay away from it."

The rest of the trip was awesome.

"It's the best of the best at the Cape," McCann said of the competition. "I tell everyone that you don't go there without becoming a better player. Every starting pitcher is a Friday night starter in a top league like the SEC, Big 12 or the Pac-10. You are playing against the best shortstops from those leagues. It's going to make you better."

McCann went there to improve his bat speed. "They play with wood bats so you have to make the adjustment," McCann said. "I had to shorten my swing and get used to heavier bats. It's an adjustment and I knew it would help me this year against SEC pitching."

Burss said McCann didn't need much more than a few tweaks, just a more compact stroke. "We helped him shorten his swing and didn't want to do much different than what Coach (Todd) Butler had already done here with him at Arkansas," Burss said. "The only problem he had was some tough luck to start the season.

"You have never seen anyone hit it so hard right at the defenders. He hit some shots early in the year and all of them were caught, some of them just great plays.

"You know what the players are like in the Cape. He hit some balls in the hole at short that some guys made unbelievable plays. His own teammate, Matt Vinson, made two diving catches in the gap and that robbed him of some doubles."

McCann got the last laugh. He hit two home runs in the playoffs to lead Cotuit to the league title.

"That was a lot of fun," Burss said. "I was with Cotuit the previous two seasons and we finished second and it was neat to get the title this time. James was a big part of that.

"Not only did he get some clutch hits at the end for us, but he was great with our pitchers behind the plate. He was one of our main leaders on the team. Our pitchers really trusted and believed in James."

McCann said taking a leadership role is just a natural part of playing his position.

"If you are the catcher, that's part of it," he said. "The catcher needs to be a team leader. He sees everything. He handles the pitchers. I think it just comes with the territory.

"When you go some place like the Cape, though, you don't want to force it. Those are all great players. I think what happens, though, you just work and they see what you are about. In time, they see how you play and what you do on and off the field. The leadership comes after that."

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