It is late summer when college, family and girlfriends loosen a summer baseball team’s hold on the mind and body of the athlete.
The ones who stick it out to the end show something to opposing coaches. That enthusiasm is one of the reasons Wichita State’s Greyson Jenista, an outfielder for the Cotuit Kettleers, earned Cape Cod League Most Valuable Player honors on Wednesday.
“You measure guys by grit and he has a lot of grit,” Wareham manager Don Sneddon said. “I’m no expert on him, except that I’d love to have him on my team.”
Jenista, a junior at WSU, was hitting .310, second in the Cape, with three home runs, four doubles and nine stolen bases in 39 games entering Saturday’s playoffs. Those are strong wood-bat stats in the nation’s best summer league; they don’t tell the entire story about why the vote of league coaches went to Jenista.
“The attrition up here can be great,” Falmouth manager Jeff Trundy said. “People see his energy and enthusiasm. He plays the game with a smile on his face and there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Jenista is the second Shocker to earn that honor, following third baseman Conor Gillaspie in 2007.
“I think they see a very complete player and I think that’s what an MVP is,” Cotuit manager Mike Roberts said. “Other coaches see the impact a player has on a win. And there’s a fear factor — ‘Do I want to pitch to these guys?’ ”
Sneddon sums up Jenista’s summer in one 90-foot sprint in a recent game. Jenista’s influenced games with his bat, his glove and his speed this summer.
“He could have easily dogged it, because it was going to be a routine ground ball,” Sneddon said. “He ran a hard 90 to first base and caused our shortstop to hurry and caused an error. He ended up on third base.”
Jenista, from Eudora, is in the Cape and running out ground balls because he wants to savor these moments. He likes his teammates — including Duke outfielder Griffin Conine, named the league’s Top Pro Prospect — and likes the progress he’s made mentally and physically.
“I’m a little more mature,” he said. “You enjoy things a little more. The home games. Your fans. The little things.”
Each Cotuit player is required to do three weeks of children’s clinics at local ballparks. Jenista did four, he said. Players show up at 8:30 a.m. and work with kids for two or three hours.
“It’s a little different than show up at 1:45 p.m. for stretch,” he said. “You’ve got to get up early to do them, but at the end of the day you enjoy it. These are the kids who want to see you. They’re filled with life. They’ve got so much energy.”
Roberts coached Jenista last summer, when he hit .229 with one home run in 42 games. He works with a different player this summer — an athlete more focused on the details of playing the outfield and running the bases.
When Jenista came to the Cape, he told Roberts he wanted to play center field. He split his time between first base and right field last spring with the Shockers. Roberts watched him improve his routes to the ball in center. On the bases, he is using his speed more effectively as he improves his primary and secondary leads and his read on pitcher deliveries.
“He is now taking as much pride in his defense as he is in his offense,” Roberts said.
Some of Jenista’s improvement comes from a better mind-set and a better relationship with Roberts. He shrugs off an 0-for-4 game quickly and doesn’t celebrate 4-for-4 too long.
“Last summer, he was too stubborn and I was too stubborn,” Roberts said. “We clashed. This year, we’ve been on the same page.”
Jenista’s size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and athletic gifts will make him one of the American Athletic Conference’s top prospects next spring. While his speed may keep him at the corner outfield spots in the pros, his time in center will pay off as he shows an ability to play valuable defensive spots.
“He’s played a very good center field in the Cape,” Roberts said. “You take a really great athlete like Greyson and you see what can happen. You believe in an athlete and see what he can do.”