A Gym Bat

06/29/2010 – Daily News Record

By Matthew Stoss Daily News Record

HARRISONBURG – At 5-foot-10, Shaun Cooper will probably never be as big as the football players in high school who inspired him to become a workout nut. He said he spends as many as six days a week at the gym, using his “rest” days to do cardio.

“I wasn’t always the biggest kid,” Cooper said about the origins of his fitness interest. “I saw a lot of kids in high school – mostly the football players – who were pretty big, and I always wanted to be the baseball player that was stronger than the football player.”

If his first 19 games in the Valley Baseball League this season mean anything, it seems the well-traveled Cooper might have become that guy.

The 20-year-old Tucson, Ariz., native – with a physique his coach at Pima Community College (Ariz.) described as “built” and “rock hard” – is tied for the VBL lead in home runs with five and tied for second in RBIs with 16, helping the Harrisonburg Turks forge a first-place tie with Winchester.

While Cooper is hitting only .239 (16-for-67) in the wooden-bat league, he’s hitting when it counts. Of his 16 hits, 10 have been either home runs or doubles. That’s why Turks manager Bob Wease said .239 isn’t as low as it looks, especially with many of Cooper’s outs being hit as hard as his home runs.

“Averages are very deceiving,” Wease said. “A guy can hit .333, but the hits that he gets – are there men in scoring position or is it just a base hit?”

Cooper, an outfielder, also leads the Turks (12-7) with 36 total bases and a .537 slugging percentage, continuing what has been a very productive year.

This past spring at Pima, as a sophomore, he led the Aztecs in each Triple Crown category, batting .330 (65-for-197) with four home runs and 44 RBIs. He also had 17 doubles while being named first-team All-Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. He also was second-team all-region.

“He’s very patient at the plate,” said Edgar Soto, Pima’s head coach the past 11 seasons. “He doesn’t swing at too many bad pitches. He has a plan when he goes up. He’s not a free-swinger. He knows what he wants to do and he’s really a student of the game. He watches the pitcher and has an idea of what’s coming.”

Cooper transferred to Pima from the University of Arizona last fall because of playing-time concerns. He hit .300 with three home runs and 18 RBIs during his only season at Arizona. With his junior-college days finished, Cooper’s next stop – beginning this fall – is the University of Utah for his final two years of college ball.

Soto said Cooper has become an above-average outfielder the same way he added muscles to his 195-pound body: work. But coming into his second VBL season – he also played for the Turks last summer – Cooper had an advantage totally unrelated to hard work.

The 14-team ACCAC is a wood-bat league.

“That’s a big plus that he hit with wood in the spring,” Wease said. “A lot of kids hit a bunch of home runs with aluminum in the spring and they’ll come here and they’ll be, ‘Oh my gosh, the ball’s not traveling like it does.’ … They have a tendency to start trying to change things and then they really get screwed up.”

Soto – who in 2002 coached the 18-and-under national team, which had current major leaguers Chad Billingsley, Lastings Milledge, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ian Stewart and Delmon Young on its roster – said the league went to wooden bats because coaches got tired of high-scoring games that made playing doubleheaders a marathon event.

Soto said junior and community colleges can do this because they aren’t governed by the NCAA.

Including last summer’s stint with the Turks, Cooper has been hitting exclusively with wood for a year. He said it’s forced him to be more precise with his swing.

“With an aluminum bat, you can get away with being on your front foot or not getting as much backspin and still hit home runs,” Cooper said.

The bonus wood-bat time also should help him next season when he’s major league draft eligible. Soto said Cooper should be drafted in the first 25 rounds.

“Without a doubt,” said Soto, who also has coached Huston Street and Jeff Francoeur. “I’ve had guys that weren’t close to him get drafted.”

Even with the power numbers, a history of homering (he tied the 4A high school record in Arizona with 37 career home runs) and a dedication to the gym, Cooper still considers himself a “gap” hitter, taking that approach in every at-bat.

“I’m not really trying to think about hitting home runs or anything,” he said. “Just trying to hit the ball hard.”

Good idea. Six days a week at the gym should take care of the rest.


Comments are closed.