MANHATTAN — Nick Martini has come to feel at ease in the batter's box. Regardless of the situation or the count, there's no place he'd rather be.
Before every plate appearance, the Kansas State center fielder taps the back edges of home plate with his bat, and waits.
Thanks to his patience, Martini usually ends up exactly where he wants to be — on base. And thanks to a two-hit game against Chicago State on Wednesday, he improved his Big 12-leading batting average to .441.
"That's what he does," said K-State baseball coach Brad Hill. "He's one of the most mature kids I've seen for his age in 23 years of coaching. His knowledge of the strike zone is tremendous. You never see him swinging at bad pitches, and the few times he does you know exactly when he's losing focus or trying to get big."
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Considering the many situations that arise during a long baseball season, few would blame Martini for breaking routine every once in a while and swinging for the fences.
But that's not Martini's style. A year ago, Martini struck out 41 times because of lapses like that and vowed never to do so again. As a sophomore, he switched to focusing on singles and walks.
"Last year I really chased some bad balls," Martini said. "I didn't know my strengths. On certain pitches I'd swing and get jammed. I knew I could hit better. This year I only swing at pitches I can hit."
For that reason, Martini is putting together a breakthrough season. Through 39 games he also has 42 RBIs, two home runs and only 12 strikeouts.
If the season ended today, he would win the Big 12 batting title by a wide margin over Missouri's Aaron Senne, who is hitting .421. He would trail only former Kansas City Royal Ken Harvey's mark of .478 set in 1999 while with Nebraska on the Big 12 career list.
Martini smiles when talking about those possibilities.
"They make me feel pretty good," he said. "They make me go into games with confidence, knowing that whoever we're playing I can hit 'em pretty well."
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Martini's game, though, is the way he built those numbers. Not only has he wracked up hits, he has done so in the most consistent way possible. Earlier this season he had a 26-game hitting streak. It ended with a 0-for-3 outing against BYU, but he has since built a nine-game hitting streak with eight of them being multi-hit games.
"He hasn't cooled off," Hill said. "You always see a guy go through a weekend where he goes 1 for 14 or something, but that doesn't happen with him. He's always hitting."
It all goes back to Martini's patient mindset. Rarely does he even lunge at pitches that are balls.
Not many 19-year-olds show that type of restraint, but Martini's father, Scott, says he learned that ability quickly after picking up a glove.
"That's something he's had since he was about four," Scott said. "He's always known what a ball and a strike is. He makes you make a pitch to beat him. He's never going to get himself out. He's that patient."
While that's true now more than ever, he has always shown a knack for getting on base. Growing up in the Chicago area, he was one of the top high school hitters around and won the state hitting crown with a .545 average as a sophomore. As a senior, he helped his team win a state championship.
"He just always wants to hit," Scott Martini said. "It's what he loves to do."
He was recruited by Creighton, Arizona State, Arizona, Illinois and South Carolina, but ultimately chose K-State because he liked Hill and grew up admiring the Big 12 as the best league in college baseball, a league he now leads in hitting.