"I feel like its gone pretty good," he said. "I struggled there for a little while in the middle of the season and kind of came back around. But overall I guess it's been pretty good."
All the more so since catching his second wind. Frazier has 23 base hits on the season, all singles. But the bulk of his batting success came in May with ten safeties in as many games, with a .435 average. That's compared to an overall season average of .253, and belies conventional wisdom about freshmen. New kids are supposed to wear down towards the end of their first college campaign, but Frazier has just gotten better the more he's played.
Not, he said, that it has not been demanding at this level. "Yeah, it's there. In high school last year I played about 35 games, then I went and played 30 or 40 more in summer. So it kind of feels the same. There's a wall with about ten games that you hit during the season, but once you get past that it feels normal again."
Frazier has also cofounded notions of freshman weight-gain which even athletes are prone to. "I lost about five pounds form the start of the season," he admitted, no small matter considering he is listed under 170 pounds to begin with.
"But the last two days-off we had I put about five pounds back on," Frazier added—no pun intended. And was the strength coach worried about the sudden surge? "He was happy for me, I was losing too much!"
Meanwhile Frazier has only gained status with his coaches, who don't hesitate using this kid in highest-pressure situations. His fielding, with just three rookie errors, speaks for itself. But batting a frosh at crunch times? Yes, indeed, for a simple reason. Frazier is just about sure to make contact…or he was until a short ‘slump' stretch he blames on a media interview.
"I said that a couple of weeks ago and felt it kind of jinxed me! But that's one thing, I just go there and try to put the ball in play. If you get behind two strikes, even if it's a bad swing make sure you put the bat on it and make them make some type of play to get you out, not be easy."
The flip-side to Frazier's batting style is lower odds of a longball. For that matter he's just looking to get the first extra-base hit of any sort before the first season ends. Then again, this might be the weekend that a bit better contact sends something fenceward. Frazier has actually played at Russ Chandler Stadium before, two summers ago with Team Elite. For that matter along the way he's played with or against "three or four" members of the Georgia Tech varsity in youth league or all-star events.
"The ball kind of flies to right-center, maybe," he recalls…something a left-handed hitter would find easy to remember of course. Otherwise, "It's a pretty nice place. And it's nice and hot! It's a nice ballpark and just another place to play, really."
But, a place much closer to home, too. Which means this Bulldog will have a larger cheering section than most in Atlanta. "I talked to a few of my buddies and they're going to come watch, I know the family is coming…I guess more than usual since we're close to home than if we were going out west." All good…but will the buddies be more prone to cheer, or jeer, as teen-agers are wont?
"They won't be giving me a hard (time) or anytime! Just close friends."
SPEAKING OF FRIENDS…: Because up to now the games have been midweek contests, with ace arms limited or held out entirely, there have been no real opportunities for Mississippi State's Jarrod Parks and Southern Mississippi's Todd McInnis to renew old acquaintances. Now these former high school rivals will square off with something serious at stake, in Friday afternoon's opening game.
Parks said the two have talked since Monday when the NCAA matched the Mississippi college teams on a field in Atlanta. "I just told Todd not to strike me out five times, and he told me to keep it in the park," Parks related. "We've been joking around with each other." The joking stops at 3:00et Friday of course.
Parks and McInnis have crossed basepaths for years, on youth fields all around the metro Jackson area. "I've been facing him since, let's see, since kid-pitch started when I was nine," said Parks. As older kids they went their own routes, Parks to Madison Central and McInnis to Northwest Rankin. Inevitably there were collisions of the two powerhouse programs.
"I faced him my junior year when Madison Central was 31-1. He one-hit us and they put us out." No, Parks admits, he didn't collect that one hit. "Then we faced him again my senior year in the playoffs and he beat us again. I got a few hits off him my senior year, two or three probably my junior year."
Even then it was clear McInnis had the stuff to be a college star. Parks remembers "a really hard slider" that was complemented by a big curveball, and fastballs spotted either side of the plate. And that was high school baseball. "He's going to be just as good if not better now," said Parks, who added he will not take history into Friday's first inning as he is the third Bulldog due.
"I know I'm not going to focus on my at-bats in high school! I'm just going to take him like any other pitcher in the SEC, because he's just as good as anybody in the SEC. I'm going to look at the scouting report, how he handles hitters, and go from there."
By further coincidence all three finalists for the Ferris Trophy will be on the field Friday. Parks and USM infielder B.A. Vollmuth were edged out by Eagle outfielder Tyler Koelling for the award honoring the state's leading college ballplayer. Koelling however was sidelined in the Conference USA tournament by a hamstring and that sort of injury means obvious concerns about this week as well. Parks, who has played this year with a bulging back disc of his own, genuinely hopes the best for his former Meridian Comm. College teammate. Or almost the best.
"I'd love to see him come out of his injury…and not play so well!" he grinned. "But I'd like to see me come out of my slump. With a few home runs, too." Sure, but wouldn't that run counter to what McInnis wants? For that matter, which of the mutual requests will be easier to fill?
"We all know the answer to that!" Parks admitted.
NUMBERS CRUNCHING: Whether he hits them out of the park or through the defense, Parks just wants to get back on his offensive track. The senior went into the SEC Tournament as the league leader in batting at .385; he left at .383, or more accurately .38297. Those points matter because he is barely in front of LSU's Mikie Mahtook at .3827.
Mahtook of course is done for the season as LSU was, to the surprise of the entire league, not awarded an at-large NCAA bid. The numbers-three and –four SEC batters are also finished for 2011 as Auburn and Kentucky did not qualify. Parks' only active competition now is Florida's Mike Zunino, who briefly took over first place during the league tournament. But by the time the Gators had taken the trophy their best batter and the SEC Player of the Year was down to .367.
"Well, anybody can have a bad weekend in the SEC," said Parks. "Especially a guy like him because they're going to pitch him so tough. He's not going to be able to pick up on a pattern because they're not going to keep the same pattern against a guy like him."
This might offer a clue to why Parks, who in mid-May was hitting .419, has dropped this far. SEC pitchers made a point not to give him anything really good to hit, and by his own account Parks was not seeing the ball as well as he had in building that lofty average. So, he has gotten back to basics at the pressurized end of his college career.
"I'm just trying to stay up-the-middle, I'm not trying to yank balls or slice balls down the left-field line. I'm trying to stay easy on my approach and not get too big, just take easy, short swings." Which would limit his chances of adding to the home run total of course, but that is way down his priority list anyway. Parks went 2-of-6 in Hoover but only fell two points and remained just these ten-thousandths in front of Mahtook.
He still has every chance to end up Mississippi State's first SEC batting champ since Thomas Berkery in 2006. "Hopefully I can keep that up and get a few hits in the regional. But that doesn't matter as much as wins does," Parks said. "I guess for the most part I control a little of my own destiny. But I'm going to try to stay around and win ball games."