When a ballclub insists on including a freshman in its starting lineup, one would expect to see a brawny slugger with an astronomical batting average at the plate.
But the Longhorns’ first-year starter weighs 170 pounds, making him the second lightest player on the team. His batting average doesn’t even graze the Mendoza line and lingers around .074.
Yet the calmest rookie is arguably making one of the loudest impacts on the team. Freshman David Hamilton commands the Longhorn defense at shortstop and has yet to give head coach David Pierce a reason to hesitate about his proficiency with the glove.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to fix Hamilton’s competence at the plate though.
“We talked a lot, but he got a new haircut and we’re trying everything,” Pierce said. “The kid is resilient — he’s a tough kid. He’s quiet, doesn’t look like he’s got that toughness to him but I’m telling you, he’s a tough kid and he’s fighting it right now. He’s just got to continue playing defense and trust himself.”
While Pierce waits for some offensive luck to grow along with Hamilton’s hair, the head coach hopes his shortstop’s defensive game stays sturdy. Hamilton has found himself starting at shortstop during 8 of 9 games so far in the season. He’s collected a team-best 31 fielding assists and has turned seven double plays to tie senior first baseman Kacy Clemens for the most on the squad.
“(Hamilton is) an amazing player,” sophomore designated hitter Kody Clemens said. “Just sitting from the dugout watching him make those plays, it was great. He’s a good kid, too.”
But Hamilton’s resilience will be put to the test as Texas transitions from hosting the Cardinals at home to facing the Cardinals in Stanford, Calif. for its first road series of the season on Thursday.
“We don’t want to let being on the road scare some of the younger guys,” redshirt junior second baseman Bret Boswell said. “It’ll be their first time away — especially at a big school like Stanford, it might be a little scary at first, but I’m sure they’ll relax and they’ll realize it’s the same game, just a different place.”
Pierce hopes Hamilton’s defensive consistency will trickle down to the bullpen at the weak end of the team, where coherence is still in question for the Longhorns.
“I think we’re still trying to formulate our bullpen,” Pierce said. “We’re not going to just go from the eighth to the ninth as a setup to a closer when we’ve got a guy getting it done. That’s just college baseball. I’ve seen that so many times where it bites you, so when you’ve got a hot hand, you want to stick with it.”
With Stanford sitting at No. 19 in the nation, Pierce expects his 21st-ranked squad to bring confidence to Palo Alto on both sides of the ball and build character as a result of the foreign environment.
“I think you get your first taste of how your team is going to be that visitor and how the crowd is completely against you,” Pierce said. “You really have an opportunity to win and come together and really create some chemistry that you don’t quite get at home.”