MANHATTAN — Whenever Jason King is away from the baseball field, he can usually be found leaning back into a recliner.
There's no place better for the Kansas State junior third baseman. Give him a comfortable seat and a free evening, and he will happily pass the time.
"I just like to lie down and think and be by myself and get away," King said. "Just relaxing, not really doing too much."
This may be an unusual way for a college athlete to spend his free time, but it seems especially odd for King. Watch him on the diamond or in the dugout around his teammates and he looks like an assistant coach. Not only is he one of the most active players during games, he is one of the most vocal and helpful during practice.
Even last season, when he was forced to sit out while recovering from elbow ligament surgery, he pushed himself as hard as coaches would allow.
"I would go on adventures," King said. "I would run around before the game and just go on runs. Then I would come to the games and run in the outfield, because that's all I could do. I like to stay active. So sitting around — not doing anything — was not something I was going to do."
Clearly, King approaches athletics differently than he does the weekend. But the contradiction works. As he learned this season, a lazy side can be useful.
"He's playing the best baseball of his career," K-State coach Brad Hill said.
After establishing himself as one of the Wildcats' top hitters and most serious players as an underclassman, he has figured out how to relax at the plate and has taken his hitting to a new level.
That newfound approach has helped him shrug off slumps and play with less on his mind. He is hitting .333 this season with 10 home runs and 57 RBIs, and is a main reason why K-State is headed to the NCAA Tournament to take on Stanford at 6 p.m. on Friday in Fullerton, Calif.
"He's been absolutely killing the ball," senior Kent Urban said.
Add an academic All-America nomination and a spot on the All-Big 12 team to his resume and King truly has little to stress about these days.
"He's put together a tremendous year," Hill said. "He's a kid who is very emotional and has a lot of pride in how he plays and how he represents this university. Sometimes that hurts him a little. But I can't be more happy or proud of what he's done here. His numbers have jumped, unbelievable. He's playing with great confidence right now."
At the best possible time, too.
When K-State needed a late surge to earn an at-large bid, he came through with the best hot streak of his career. He is on a 16-game hitting streak and has multiple hits in nine of his past 10 games.
"I'm trying to keep the game more in perspective," King said. "It's a short part of my life. It's not defining who I am as a person. I'm really not thinking too much about it other than that it feels good to help the team."
King — with a freshly trimmed bald head and a small goatee — can joke about his transformation. That's something he learned from his younger brother, Jared, who joined the Wildcats this season as a freshman.
Though it did take a while.
"I try to get a couple laughs out of him, because he's always so serious," Jared King said."... When you get him to laugh, it feels like an accomplishment."
Both because of the smile he cracks, and the offense it inevitably produces.
"He's really turned it up and is playing like he's capable of," King's brother said. "Everyday life with him, he wants to be the best at everything that he does and especially the things he can control. He's very tentative, and he wants to do good all the time.
"But when he relaxes and doesn't worry about the pressure always being on him.... When he just plays, he's as good as anybody."