Lobos' Russell finding success at the plate
By Jimmy Carter firstname.lastname@example.org
March 24, 2013 at 11 p.m.
Some baseball players pick current hits for their at-bat walk-up songs. Others choose older, classic songs or sport-specific tunes.
Longview senior third baseman Reid Russell went with "Who Gon Stop Me", a dubstep-infused song by Jay-Z and Kanye West. West aggressively challenges all comers in the song's chorus, repeatedly asking, as the title suggests, who will stop him.
That's the part Russell selected to play while he approaches the plate during home at-bats.
"I just thought it would be kind of fitting," Russell said.
And it has been.
Opposing pitchers have had trouble stopping Russell this season. He's hitting .463 with six home runs and 26 RBIs, all team-highs.
His production has been a key reason Longview is 11-6 and has already eclipsed its win total from last season. The success also showcases the major progress he has made in the last year after hitting just .246 with no home runs and eight RBIs as a junior.
"I think it's just varsity experience is all it was," Russell said. "Just more at-bats and seeing more pitches. I didn't really make too many changes to my swing. It's just the whole mental process."
The year of experience has clearly paid off. Russell has batted third or fourth in the lineup all season and has a .508 on-base percentage in addition to being the Lobos' best run producer.
"Last year he struck out a lot," Longview coach Bernie Martinez said. "Now he's learning to take what the pitcher gives him. Go the other way, foul a few balls off, take something off his swing to live to see another pitch.
"I think that's been the biggest difference. He knows how to manage his at-bats better."
Martinez stuck with Russell despite his struggles at the plate.
"People were like, 'Why do you keep playing him?'" Martinez said. "And I said, 'Because I believe in him. The kid can play.' I've always known that since he was a kid. He can hit. He just needed to get in there and get his at-bats. He's a hard worker and works his butt off in the cage. I knew over time that he'll get what's due to him."
Russell's time in the batting cage during the offseason didn't take long to pay off. He homered in Longview's season opener, a 9-2 win at Texas High.
He's had plenty of other big hits this season, too, including a go-ahead two-run home run Friday against North Mesquite. The blast to left field put the Lobos ahead 6-4 in an eventual 8-7 win that snapped their four-game losing streak.
"I just fouled off a bunch pitches and got a curveball that stayed up," Russell said. "I just put a good swing on it. But that wind was going. I heard the crowd cheering so I got excited."
Russell has had to adjust to pitcher being extra cautious when pitching to him in recent weeks thanks to his increased production.
"I don't see many fastballs, but when I do I try to just make it count and hit it hard," Russell said. "It's definitely different. You just have to try to go opposite field with everything."
Opposing pitchers aren't the only ones giving Russell extra attention. He has already been accepted to attend Texas A&M, but several baseball programs, including Tyler Junior College and Panola, have expressed interest.
"I've always wanted to play baseball," Russell said. "I think it'd be a fun experience and just see how it works out. TJC told me that I would be a good fit and they want me to play for them next year. So I'm just keeping my options open."
<em>(Follow Jimmy Carter on Twitter @jicartersports)</em>