"Yeah, you definitely try and be aware of where you are," Flying Tigers first baseman Tony Plagman admitted while avoiding one of Lakeland's signature torrential rains, "you try not to look at stats as much as you can because that kind of stuff gets in your head and will sometimes affect your performance."
"Sometimes you want to stay away from it, but there's always something inside that wants to see how you compare to everybody else."
You see, Tony is a master, most of all, a master of one stat. A leader in one of the most recognized stats in baseball.
Day in, day out, since his early years in Georgia, through his four years at Georgia Tech, Plagman has been one of his lineup's largest cogs, one of its most telling pieces.
And, this year, once again (and to no surprise), Tony Plagman has ridden his clean-up spot to not only become Lakeland's scariest bat, but the most effective run-producing hitter in the Florida State League.
Plagman, over his solid glove, his knack for the game, or his surprisingly deft baserunning is, more than anything else, an RBI machine.
After two years of leading the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Runs Batted In, lefty Plagman is now crushing the FSL with 88 RBI, and is well on his way to an astounding 100-RBI season. Plagman is also 6th in the Florida State League in runs created.
His path here, though, is slightly different than most RBI-leading paths. He wasn't always a huge slugger, and wasn't "hitting home runs before he could even walk."
This big bat's story hasn't always been leading up to baseball success. It's not about a young, dominating prodigy, or an inspiring fight through a defeating injury or mishap.
In fact, it actually started halfway across the world, far from any thought of a baseball career, let alone the game itself.
"I lived in England until I was ten," was one of the first things Tony said to the soundtrack of raindrops and your common pre-game stadium loudspeakers, and to a surprised reporter.
"I was born in Kansas [City], and then moved to Chicago, and then moved to England."
England? Like, soccer?
"Kenilworth… two hours north of London."
Sports (aside from the probable obligatory soccer) weren't always a huge part of his life, especially baseball. Actually, Plagman didn't begin thinking about, let alone play baseball for ten years, all the way up until he returned to his new home, Alpharetta, Georgia.
Then, yes, sports were a large of Tony's life.
He began by playing baseball, but also tried his hand, or arm, in football. His football career produced his only major injury, a shoulder ding, but ended with over 3,000 passing yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior quarterback.
There was never a question, though, that baseball was always Tony Plagman's preferred sport.
"I started playing ball in Alpharetta," he reminisced, "middle school and high school… I loved playing, I wanted to play as much as I can."
Despite being a newcomer to the game, after just a few years of pre-high school ball, Tony started at first base as a youthful freshman for Wesleyan School. Then, he said, is when he was really able to envisage himself as someone who could, everyday, for a long time, play baseball professionally. It was, as many would say, when his dream began.
After a (relatively) long high school baseball career, one paired and strengthened by a paralleled high school football career, Plagman had achieved All-County accolades for his performance in Alpharetta and, perhaps, All-State honors.
"I think I might have been All-State, I don't know, it was a long time ago," Tony tried to remember while laughing in disbelief at how fast time flies, "Yeah, I might have been."
After high school, Tony traveled 30 minutes to Atlanta and, as a preferred walk-on (his academics eventually earned Dean's List in Management) made the Georgia Tech baseball team. There, not because of his swing, but because of his dexterity in the field, Plagman (he likes long careers) became the everyday first baseman as an 18-year old freshman. From there, his bat only anchored the notion to start him so young.
"I went in my freshman year not expecting to play and just try and go in there and work hard, and ended up playing… I just appreciated the opportunity to play… I'm very thankful. I could have easily not played my freshman year, and I'm not sure where I'd be now, but it was definitely great… made me a stronger player."
Here, after realizing his potential, Plagman worked even harder to achieve what he saw just a few years previous.
By his sophomore year Plagman was batting .306 for the Yellow Jackets, and by his junior year established himself as the RBI machine he's become.
In his third year with the team, Plagman hit .354, swatted 16 homers, and led the team with 157 total bases and 73 RBI in 58 games.
His final year only yielded better numbers.
In 62 games, his average increased to .360, home run total increased to 20, total bases increased to 169, and RBI total increased to 78. He was selected to the 2010 All-ACC second-team and eventually led the Yellow Jackets to the regional's of the College World Series.
Unfortunately, Georgia Tech lost to Alabama in the final game.
But, while his transformation and progression from a kid in England who didn't play baseball to a newly-acquainted little leaguer to a coveted prospect to a well-rounded role model, Plagman's transition from college to the pros wasn't as smooth.
In 2009, after his junior year, Tony fell all the way to the unrespectable 46th round of the First-Year Player Draft and was selected by the New York Yankees.
"I was a later pick, obviously. I went and played summer ball in the Cape and kind of decided that I wanted to go back and play my senior year at Tech. It didn't really work out with the Yankees…"
"… at that point, being such a late pick, they're not gonna have a whole lot invested in you."
The decision clearly paid off. After hard work in the off-season and a stellar senior year, Tony was selected in the 10th round by the Tigers organization.
He agrees that, after another fun year in school, a successful season, and a more respectable professional status, it was the right decision.
The road doesn't become steamroller smooth here, though. ACC baseball is the apex of college competition, but Tony, along with his stats, admits that the adjustment to minor league baseball is an arduous one.
While his RBI total still shatters the rest of the FSL, some of Tony's other numbers are in crisp contrast to his college career's.
"Here (Lakeland), every night you're facing guys that are throwing 90, pretty much at the minimum, and with good off-speed. In college, it's usually guys have one or two pitches, here guys have four pitches that they can throw for strikes."
Tony's batting average sits .95 points lower than his senior year's .360, while his slugging percentage, .450, is .257 points lower than his senior year .707.
"It's also a little bit of a different game with the bats," he later admitted.
But, as aforementioned, Plagman is still deadly when it comes to being up with men on base. Despite the floundering of a few other numbers, he's still doing what he does best. He's still driving in runs. He's still doing his best to not only better himself, but contribute as a team player.
In regard to this season, Tony still vows to do his best to lead the Flying Tigers into the playoffs. The chance is slim, but not nothing.
"We're close to the bottom, but we're also close to the top," Tony said last week in regard to the tightly knit FSL North.
"If we just go in there with the same attitude everyday, just play our game… we just need to keep that approach going."
If Lakeland doesn't make the playoffs, though, things could get ugly. According to teammate Corey Jones' Twitter, Plagman isn't the most gracious when it comes to losing. Just a few days ago Jones called out Plagman about how Tony refused to go his turn so he wouldn't lose a game of "Hanging with Friends" – a hangman-like game played over the iPhone.
A little bit later, though, Plagman, perhaps shamed by Jones' ignominies, admitted his loss.