Aikin is OU's table-setter

Junior center fielder serves as perfect lead-off hitter for Sooners

There’s nothing Oklahoma center fielder Craig Aikin likes more than watching a baseball fly over the outfield fence.

It just depends on where he’s standing when it does.

While most young baseball players dream about hitting massive home runs to win the World Series, Aikin just never did. Like he does now, he’d much rather watch home runs fly out from a base than standing next to home plate with a bat.

He is truly the epitome of a lead-off hitter, both in his skills and his mentality.

“It is so fun for me to stand on first base and see balls get launched or wherever I am and greet them at home plate,” said Aikin, who called his first collegiate home run last week ‘not a big deal.’ “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.”

Aikin is the guy standing at home plate with a big smile, waiting for his teammate to round the bases. Shortstop Sheldon Neuse and second baseman Kolbey Carpenter, who have combined for nine home runs, don’t get to celebrate like Aikin does. In Aikin’s words, the big home run hitters have to act like they “do it every day.”

He’s the one with the big grin at home plate, excited that he gets to be the first one to score after home runs – not the last.

“I get to be the RBI,” Aikin said. “I love being on base. For that time through the lineup, job was completed. I got to be an RBI for them.” As Oklahoma prepares for a four-game series beginning Thursday against Hawaii, Aikin’s mentality might not have changed, but his approach at the plate has begun to develop.

After a stellar Big 12 Tournament, the left-handed Aikin has worked to take his game to the next level this season. A talented late-ball hitter who can drive the ball to the opposite field with ease, Aikin has tried to work on turning on pitches – driving them into right field.

Last season, Aikin batted .326 – second-best on the team – and had the highest on-base percentage of all the every-day players – .411. This season, the numbers have jumped.

In 19 games, Aikin is batting .377 (fourth-best in the conference) and getting on base at a 43-percent rate. He leads the Big 12 Conference in runs scored and is second in hits.

He’s behind just Neuse in total bases for Oklahoma.

“He can drive the baseball,” Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes said. “Honestly though his mindset and productivity is so much better when he's thinking backside.”

Despite his extensive work with hitting coach Mike Anderson to become a more well-rounded hitter, Aikin still knows what he does best. He’s very certain in that. He wants to set the table. He wants to get on base. He doesn’t want to take away any part of his game in that ever-important responsibility.

Neither do his teammates, they like rounding third and seeing his smiling face standing behind home plate.

Aikin, who set a program record with six hits against Arkansas-Little Rock last week including his first-ever collegiate home run, is spraying the ball around the park more than last season. He pulled his home run over the right field fence.

No one on, Aikin wants to find an open spot anywhere on the field, but with a runner on, he wants to be productive for the Sooners (12-7). “I don’t want to just leg out an infield single and have it be first and third,” Aikin said. “I want to punish a pitcher and really try to take my game to the next level. It’s just. You see guys hitting around you. This lineup, this might be one of the best lineups I’ve ever hit around.”

Right now, he’s arguably the best hitter on the team. He’s best taking pitches at the top of the lineup, where Neuse and the rest of the hitters can watch and understand how they’ll be attacked.

“I have a game plan,” Neuse said of when he approaches the plate because of what Aikin has done. “That’s what allows me to go up there to hit a mistake or hit a pitcher’s pitch. I’m ready for it because of what I’ve seen in his at-bat.”

Aikin understands who he is: A 5-foot-10, 175-pound centerfielder. He wasn’t made to hit home runs, and he never wanted to – and still doesn’t.

“That’s not my game. . . . That’s not me,” Aikin said. “I want to be RBIs for these guys.”


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