Tyler Baker’s strong start to the season is the result of a uncluttered mind.
He isn’t worried about his batting stance. He isn’t thinking about playing time. He isn’t concerned with what coaches are thinking.
“You can see the ball a lot better when you’re not thinking about a whole bunch of stuff,” he said. “When you start thinking about stuff, that ball seems like a little golf ball. When you’re not thinking about anything, it seems like a huge beach ball.”
Baker, Wichita State’s sophomore catcher, is proving the power of no thinking at the plate. He is hitting .448 with an .897 slugging percentage in nine games. His three runs home runs are tied for the team lead with Casey Gillapsie and his four doubles lead the Shockers.
WSU (5-4) plays at home for the first time since Feb. 17 when it meets Oral Roberts (5-5) on Tuesday at Eck Stadium. The Shockers won 4 of 5 in a weekend trip to Arkansas. Playing five games in four days helped the Shockers recover from a snow-induced layoff of eight days.
“We were going stir crazy,” assistant coach Jim Thomas said. “Baseball is a daily game. Coaches are learning a little bit about what we’ve got and how to use guys, and the only way you do that is by playing.”
Baker, from Topeka, learned a lot about tough times last season, when he hit .205 with one home run in 38 starts. He played well for Liberal last summer and coaches could tell he was on the right track when he came back to school.
He earned Missouri Valley Conference player of the week honors after going 9 for 15 with three doubles and two homers in Arkansas.
“He worked his fanny off,” Thomas said. “He’s put in the work. He’s gotten strong and he’s developing like you like a guy to develop.”
Baker’s work in the weight room accounts for some of his improvement. He can be more patient because his bat is quicker, making fastballs easier to handle and off-speed pitches aren’t as likely to fool him.
“He was under the ball and late a lot (last year),” Thomas said. “Because he is stronger and quicker, and more confident, he has more time and it allows him to see the ball a little bit longer.”
Baker also raised his hands slightly, which he thinks helps him keep his swing down toward the ball. More line drives. Fewer pop-ups.
Those are things Baker doesn’t think about much. His swing is second nature, not something he is tinkering with.
“I trust my swing because I swung a lot in the off-season,” he said. “I know it. People ask me, ‘What are you doing, what are you doing?’ I don’t know. That tells me I’m just swinging.”