Kirkland's Rollercoaster Ride

Slumps are a huge part of baseball. They can happen at the plate, on the mound or in the field. Every player goes through them—tough times in which nothing seems to go right. What sets apart the successful players from the others is the ability to block out their misfortunes and continue playing the game. Luckily for the Tigers organization, Kody Kirkland was able to do just that.

Kody Kirkland was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 in the thirtieth round out of the College of Southern Idaho. He showed some potential, mostly at the plate as a power hitter. Despite this, the Pirates traded him to Detroit in a deal for veteran Randall Simon. Kirkland had mixed emotions about the trade. "At first, I thought to myself 'they don't want me,'" he says, "but then I figured somebody must want me enough to trade for me, so that was reassuring."

Kirkland used this new mindset as motivation on the field. Then, out of the blue, 2004 happened. The year was not a good one for Kody, as he saw dramatic drops in almost all of his offensive numbers while playing for West Michigan. It was his first experience of failure, and his first 140-game season. He started off slowly and worried too much to ever pull himself out of the hole he had dug. People were starting to doubt the possibility of the young third baseman ever becoming a productive player.

Kody, however, never let himself get pessimistic. He credits his teammates for getting him through the tough season. He also understands that there's only so much that others can do-- at some point, a player must pull himself out of a slump. He remembers, "I had to start taking every game-- every at bat-- one at a time. Even when it got really bad I had to just keep playing." By not giving up, Kirkland was able to grow mentally and learn from his mistakes.

The next season, Kirkland rebounded and even improved his game from where he was before the slump. He's started this season off well for Erie, being among the team leaders in many offensive categories, including home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.

Despite this hot start, Kody knows not to take anything for granted. He credits his teammates for his early success, saying that they are the reason why he's seeing good pitches. He also contests that he still has much to work on with his swing, including patience, timing, hitting the ball to the opposite field and cutting down on strikeouts.

He feels he's "letting pitchers dictate the at bats," and knows that that must end for him to be successful. He also feels as if the cold weather is making him try to "overhit," though is confident that will change as he gets more accustomed to the new climate of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Despite his success at the plate, one concern is that he also leads the team in fielding errors. This is something of a surprise for the Tigers, as Kirkland was named the top defensive third baseman in the Florida State League just last season, while playing for Lakeland. He says that his problems in the field have been mostly mental, that each mistake "gets into your head." "After a while you start playing yourself, instead of just playing baseball."

Because of his previous experiences, there is little doubt that Kody will be able to come out of this minor rut. It helps that he cares more about team wins than personal statistics. He knows that worrying about stats is what makes them go down. "If you just play the game, do the little things, the numbers will come."

And this promising prospect doesn't keep this knowledge all to himself.

During the off-season he finds time to go back to Southern Idaho and help out at his alma mater's baseball camp. He enjoys giving back to the school that gave him his first opportunity, and says that it helps that the players there see guys who have made it to professional ball. Sometimes players need to talk to other players, instead of just listening to their coaches, though Kirkland doesn't in any way want to downplay the importance of good coaching.

Kody Kirkland is a player that understands the ups and downs of baseball.

His ability to concentrate on the game and get out of tough situations should help him in the future and lead to even more success. "It's a failing game," he says, and knows the importance of staying positive. The one thing he never lets himself forget is that "it's all baseball," and should be a game you enjoy. This attitude, no doubt, should help him on his way to bigger and better things on the playing field.

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