Tekotte promises best yet to come

EUGENE, OR-- Emeralds centerfielder Blake Tekotte responds promptly when asked which player he most admires on his new team.

"I really like how Dan Robertson plays," said Tekotte, who follows Robertson at the top of the Ems batting order. "He's exciting to watch and a smart player. We're kind of alike in that we don't have tremendous power, but he plays hard and hustles all the time; he's looking for that extra base every time. He's a great competitor."

If like truly attracts like, then Blake Tekotte's affinity for Robertson's gritty, hardnosed play should come as no surprise. Emeralds coaches consistently praise such qualities in Tekotte, who, with 14 professional games under his belt, continues to evolve into the speedy run producer chosen in the third-round of the 2008 first-year players' draft from the University of Miami.

"He's a plus runner who plays good defense," said Eugene manager Greg Riddoch. "He gets great jumps on the ball, and he's smart and instinctive. And he just loves to play the game; he's very passionate about it."

Hitting coach Eric Peyton agreed.

"He's a smart hitter, and he's already making the adjustments he needs to make with his swing," Peyton said. "He's got a great makeup, and he works hard every day. He understands the work that's required of him, and he's beginning to see that transfer to games."

The results of Tekotte's hard work began appearing in earnest during the Ems' most recent eight-game homestand, when the 1-2-3 punch of Robertson, Tekotte and power hitter Sawyer Carroll combined to score 16 runs and drive in 14 en route to five combined wins versus the Vancouver Canadians and Tri-City Dust Devils.

The Emeralds have won eight of their last nine games played and return home on Thursday for a three-game set with Everett, and with the possible exception of .350 hitter Robertson, no Ems player has caught fire like Tekotte, The centerfielder has four multi-hit games across his last six. And his best game of the year, in which he smashed two home runs and drove in five in a dramatic 6-3 Ems' win before a packed house Thursday, led to 40-point jumps in both batting average (.293) and on-base percentage (.370). Tekotte's numbers continue to advance, and each day he looks more like the player who hit .353 and drove in 50 runs this spring for the Miami Hurricanes.

Tekotte's recent successes have come on the heels of an eye-opening adjustment period. A two-week absence to live pitching, brought on by contract negotiations with the Padres, left Tekotte rusty and led to eight strikeouts in his first 13 at-bats.

"I'm just trying to get used to everything," he said shortly after joining the team. "It's tough not facing pitching, and I'm working on getting my eye and my timing back. I've also got to gain weight back to get back to my playing weight."

Peyton explained Tekotte's early struggles as commonplace among new arrivals.

"College players often use rotational hitting, which involves rotating your shoulders through the swing," Peyton said. "But at the professional level, you have to get your hands through the ball first and stay on top of it. If you don't, your shoulder flies out and you miss. But he's a smart hitter; he's already learning how to hit at this level."

Tekotte stressed that his early trials have already made him a better hitter.

"You obviously don't want to struggle when you first get here," he said, "but it only made me more sure of my approach. I'm getting better, and I've got nothing to prove. I just have to play the game the way I know how. I'm mostly working on consistent contact, hitting the ball the other way and staying within myself."

His hitting coach views Tekotte's steady attitude as proof of good baseball character.

"When he struggled, nothing changed his demeanor," Peyton said. "He just said ‘whoa' and began making adjustments to get better. That's a common characteristic of the players that last in professional baseball. I'm glad he's with us."

Tekotte credits his baseball acumen to his father, a major-league caliber player whose failing eyesight cut short his career.

"I learned just about everything from him," Tekotte said of his father, also named Blake. "He's been watching my swing since I was five, and he knows everything about it, including how to keep it consistent. He's a laid-back guy, and he'll just tell me ‘you're doing this and this' or ‘you need to try to keep your hands back more.' We've developed all these little phrases over the years to help my muscles get back in a position where I can square up and hit the ball."

Thanks to a fatherly visit, both Tekotte's enjoyed the younger's performance in Eugene this week, though Blake Jr. stresses that his team and Emeralds fans have yet to see his best.

"I hope they haven't seen my best yet," he said. "I'm still pretty rusty, and I need to get my swings in. This is just like starting my whole career over. Baseball, I guess, is a job now rather than something I just do for fun. But I love the game, and I try to make it as much fun as I can."

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