Feb. 12, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Isaac Ballou enters his senior baseball season at Marshall subscribing to at least part of the old Satchel Paige axiom.
“Don’t look back … ”
With Ballou’s speed, it’s doubtful something might be gaining on him, anyway.
The MU center fielder and leadoff hitter starts the 2013 season Friday with the Herd at Old Dominion for a three-game series. It’s a “real exciting” homecoming for Ballou, just 30 minutes from his Smithfield, Va., base. And he’s toting a realism of how the system can work that many collegians don’t have.
He was selected in the 36th round of the 2011 June MLB Draft by Pittsburgh, after his redshirt sophomore season. After numbers that improved a bit in 2012, Ballou went undrafted.
Go figure? He’s quit trying. And for his final season with the Herd, he’s gained 20-25 pounds, plus a full count of perspective.
“It was definitely an interesting experience to say the least,” Ballou said of his 2012 draft snub. “I was kind of blindsided by the whole thing, but I talked to my pastor and others about it, and I took it as a way to keep me grounded.
“The resounding message for me was just because I wanted it to happen doesn’t mean it was on God’s time. So, I’m back here, working hard, and hopefully we can win a championship.”
Ballou stayed on campus this past summer to seriously work out, and he drove over to Charleston to visit the Herd’s Conference USA home -- Appalachian Power Park – for more than a few of the West Virginia Power’s South Atlantic League games.
When he saw familiar MLB club scouts there who had covered Herd games in the spring, he asked if they could give him an inkling of why he wasn’t drafted a second time.
“I asked what there was I could improve on,” said the lefthanded-hitting Ballou, who batted .308 – with a good .448 on-base percentage – and 21 steals in 2012. “There really wasn’t anything that really stuck out.
“Basically, a couple said that first year (2011), after I was drafted, they cut the draft from 50 to 40 rounds.
“So, that’s a lot fewer kids (292 fewer players picked in 2012 than in 2011), and I kind of got washed up in it. They didn’t really give me a definite answer, but I did get the idea something was wrong.”
Ballou perhaps has figured it out, or so he thinks.
“I want to improve on my arm strength, for sure, and as a leadoff guy, I need more walks than strikeouts. I had 43 (walks) to 41 last year, but I need to cut down on the strikeouts, help my draft stock … I’d say 4-to-1 would be good; that’s pretty tough to do, but think it can be reasonable for me.
“I wanted to use the offseason to get stronger, so that way when I do get the opportunity, they don’t have to develop me in the minor leagues as far as strength goes … That’s one thing that’s there. OK, this guy is 23 (he’ll reach that birthday next month), he looks the part, let’s keep moving him up.”
Ballou spent the summer working on explosiveness, and his 6-foot-2 frame has gone from 180 pounds to 200-205. He did Olympics-style lifting, squats, bench presses (the latter improving by 65-70 pounds). He worried “for sure” about losing speed due to body mass, so the regimen included conditioning and sprints on Fridays.
His goals for this season are somewhere he can see them every morning.
“I definitely set goals; they’re written over top of my bedpost,” Ballou said. “But I’m a team guy and I feel if we’re accomplishing things as a team, then my goals are going to be met.
“Anybody can shoot to hit .350, but if you’re not doing the right things, then it’s not going to happen. And if you’re not doing the things that help the team win, what does it matter? I’d rather have us finish first in conference than me go out with 70 bags (stolen). When you win, well, that’s why you play the game.
“I’ve hit lots of triples (a school career record 14), but I’d like more doubles. I’m putting more emphasis on that. I hate to say it, but there were 5-6 balls could have been doubles last year, if I hustled. One thing I’m going to do from Day 1 this season is run hard out of the box. Be as aggressive as possible. Be more aggressive going after balls and be more vocal out in the outfield, too, close up gaps … Just be a more well-rounded player.”
Whether he’s picked in the 2013 draft or not, Ballou – with a similar season to his last two -- will leave Marshall ranked in the top five in games, at-bats, hits, runs, steals and walks, besides his triples record. The big week, he said, will be June 2, when he finishes college work – he’s a business management major with a minor in marketing and sports management -- and June 6-8, the MLB Draft.
The MU career rankings “to be honest, I don’t really think about that,” he said. “I’m sure when I hang up my cleats collegiately it will cross my mind, but right now I’m focused on trying to have Marshall’s first winning season (since 1990) and that part of the record book.
“I was 36th (round, first player in round, No. 1,082 overall). At this point, I can’t control it, where I’m picked. All I can control is my approach every day, try to get better.
“My mindset is not about where I get drafted, it’s what I do with the opportunity. You see guys drafted 20-25th rounds, and they make a long career out of it while some first-rounders don’t stick.”
Freshman right-hander Chase Boster will get the opening day start Friday in Norfolk, Va., for the Herd. Junior right-hander Aaron Blair, the staff ace, is scheduled Saturday, with senior lefty Wayland Moore penciled in for the series-closing start Sunday.