‘Baby Bubba’

07/17/2009 – Daily News Record

Tampa Star’s Bat Boosting Turks Written by Dustin Dopirak Daily News Record HARRISONBURG – Bob Wease calls Mike Schwartz “Baby Bubba.” That’s a little bit strange considering Schwartz is a native of New Jersey, where they don’t tend to call a lot of people Bubba.

But if you’re a Southerner, or if you’ve ever met someone with that nickname, you can look at Schwartz and see where the Harrisonburg Turks’ manager is coming from.

“He’s just a little baby Bubba,” Wease said. “You know, heavy-set kid. All he can do is hit.”

Indeed, Schwartz has the Bubbified build that’s much more Prince Fielder, John Kruk or Babe Ruth than say, Albert Pujols. He’s politely listed at 6-foot, 215 pounds on the rosters of the Turks and Tampa (Fla.) University, but that’s laughably off. Schwartz admits he’s closer to 245. A lot of that is muscle, but a lot of that is, well, something else.

As Wease said, though, all he can do is hit, and can he ever.

Schwartz, a rising senior left-handed hitter at Tampa who is used mostly as a designated hitter, has been a critical source of power in a lineup without much of it. Hitting mostly cleanup, he went into Thursday night’s game at Woodstock ranked third on the Turks in batting average (.299) and first in home runs (4), RBIs (22), slugging percentage (.563), on-base percentage (.492), walks (28) and even, stunningly, triples (2).

Considering that the Turks are hitting just .250 as a team and have just three other players with more than 10 RBIs, Schwartz’s pop has been crucial.

“He’s done a good job for us,” said Wease, whose Turks are 15-15-1. “He’s one of the reasons we’re not at the bottom.”

Said Schwartz: “It’s like I’m the guy who has to drive in runs. Get big hits, hit home runs. Drive in runs.”

Schwartz has been that way everywhere he’s been. As a senior at Montville Township (N.J.) High School, he set the school batting average at .583. At Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College, he hit .433 with five home runs and 43 RBIs as a freshman and .403 as a sophomore, which earned him junior college All-American honors. That got him a scholarship at nearby Tampa, a Division II powerhouse.

“We thought he was the best junior college offensive player in the state,” Tampa coach Joe Urso said.

He’s been just as good at a four-year school. Last year for the Spartans, he hit .368, led the squad in home runs (14) and RBIs (58), tied for first in hits (70) and finished second among regulars in slugging at .653. Tampa finished 39-17, but lost in the first round of the NCAA Division II tournament.

“It starts with his knowledge of the strike zone,” Urso said. “He really understands the strike zone and he doesn’t chase many bad pitches. And he has the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Most power hitters you see, they like to pull the ball, but he drives the ball to all fields. … He’s a professional hitter.”

But the weight could be why he’s not yet a professional at anything else.

Schwartz is faster around the bases than you’d expect a young man his size to be – case in point, the two triples. He said he never feels like he’s out of energy or winded.

What is an issue, though, is that the weight hurts his range at first base, which is where he’s stationed on the rare occasions he does play in the field.

He was a designated hitter all season for Tampa, and that’s obviously not something major league scouts want to see, especially ones that work for National League teams (the NL doesn’t use the DH). Unsurprisingly, he was passed over in the draft this year, and Urso said scouts told him they viewed Schwartz as more of a “senior sign” option.

“He has to get better at side-to-side movements,” Urso said. “A lot of people think first base is an easy position. But there’s so much that goes on. You’re handling every ball. There’s a lot of work that he still needs on the agility side.”

Schwartz thinks he can get that agility back easily next spring. He tightened up to 230 pounds last season on Tampa’s conditioning program, which, Schwartz and Urso said, is run by trainers who also work with boxer Antonio Tarver and have worked with Gary Sheffield of the New York Mets. He admittedly isn’t watching his diet that closely this summer, and he’s spending a lot more of his time in the gym in the weight room instead of on the treadmills.

That will change, he said, when he gets back to Tampa.

“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I’ll be in real good shape by the time the year comes around. After the summer ends, I’ll get my weight back down, and you can see where I was last year, I’ll be in real good shape.”

That would certainly raise his draft stock for next year, Urso said, but now that he’s a senior, the fact that “all he can do is hit” might not destroy his chances.

Said Urso: “The bat is going to give him a chance to play pro ball.” Dustin Dopirak Sports Reporter Sports Department ddopirak@dnronline.com 540-574-6228


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