Jaguars count on Baker's hitting, leadership
Jan. 17, 2011 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2011 at 7:17 p.m.
David Baker was the first player in the batting cage at Riverside Stadium on Monday, and it wasn't by accident.
The University of Houston-Victoria baseball team gathered for its first practice of the spring on a sunny afternoon and it was only appropriate the program's all-time leader in hits (133), home runs (31) and RBIs (109) would take the first cuts.
Baker begins his fourth and final year for the Jaguars with many of the same goals he had when he came to UHV from Houston for its inaugural season.
"That would be No. 1, playing in the World Series," Baker said. "As far as self goals, I would like to be more consistent throughout the whole year. Just go one day at a time with each at bat. I'd like to improve hitting the ball the other way."
UHV coach Terry Puhl believes the Jaguars have the ability to make a run at their first NAIA World Series appearance, but not without another solid year from Baker.
"I think David knows this can be his last year of playing baseball," Puhl said. "I talked to him today and he said he's very focused and he's strong and healthy.
"He's going to be hitting in the middle of our lineup. He's going to be a big run producer for us."
Baker started all 55 games last season and led the team in home runs and slugging percentage, while earning Association of Independent Institutions all-conference and all-tournament honors.
He hopes to duplicate or better those numbers after overcoming tightness in his back he battled during the fall.
Much of Baker's optimism is based on the experience he had playing for the Victoria Generals over the summer.
"If you play with a higher level of talent, you're going to rise to that level," he said. "If that can translate on to this field, which I hope it does, than it's a good thing."
Baker will primarily be used as a designated hitter again this season and will see spot duty at first base.
With UHV welcoming freshmen for the first time, Puhl is counting on Baker's presence in the dugout.
"I think David could supply a little more leadership from the standpoint of bringing along some of the younger guys, watching them and encouraging them a little bit," Puhl said. "Coaches can't do it all. Players have to do some of that too."
Baker is looking forward to working with the freshman and making them feel more comfortable.
"I do and I actually enjoy it," he said. "I like talking to these guys and trying to help them out. Anything I can do pretty much and help them and make them better, I will do everything I can."
Baker has done his part to help build the UHV program and he's determined to make his final season a memorable one.
"It's gone by real fast," he said. "It's hard for me to think that it's been four years because it doesn't feel like it."
NOTES: Puhl hopes the weather cooperates so the Jaguars can prepare for their season-opening doubleheaders against Northwood University.
"We'll move very quickly this week," he said. "Next week we'll really zero in on a few little things like signs, small little issues, bunt plays, rundowns and those type of things."
Puhl said he will take a slightly different approach with the freshmen.
"I will be more patient with the freshmen when they're on the field," he said. "I've got to expect them to make mistakes and you've got to give them the freedom to do that."