Bethune-Cookman Danny Rodriguez Well-Adjusted And Thriving

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The ability to make adjustments is what separates average hitters from good hitters, and it is also what has made Bethune-Cookman freshman first baseman Danny Rodriguez one of the top hitters in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).

Rodriguez was second in the MEAC with 46 RBIs, tied for second with 10 home runs and fourth in total bases (106), while being named MEAC Rookie of the Year. Also, he was named Outstanding Performer after leading the Wildcats to the 2016 MEAC Baseball Tournament championship and berth in the NCAA Regional, where they will play No. 1 ranked and overall top seed Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Friday.

“When we signed him, we definitely felt he was ready to come in and be a force offensively,’’ Bethune-Cookman coach Jason Beverlin said. “His power definitely sets him apart. Power is something that you can’t teach. His bat speed for a big guy is definitely an asset for him. But probably the most important thing is he has learned as a result of his successes and his failures is that he makes adjustments rather quickly from one at bat to the next. That can be a difficult task because there is learning curb even for the best player sin high school when they get to college – the speed of the game and just the talent level you’re going to see playing Division I baseball. He has made that adjustment quicker than most.’’

Rodriguez, 6-foot-3 and 240-pounds, arrived at Bethune-Cookman as a highly regarded power hitter. He blasted nine home runs with 32 RBIs in 73 games his junior season at Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Charter High School while batting .342. He earned numerous postseason honors, including District Hitter of the Year.

During the fall, Rodriguez showed that he was capable of hitting college pitching about as well as he had hit high school pitching. Rodriguez’s hitting was so impressive that, Beverlin decided to take the unusual step of batting Rodriguez fourth in the Wildcats’ lineup the entire 2016 season.

“Putting a freshman in the four hole all year long is definitely a lot of pressure and it takes a special kind of player to be able to do that,’’ Beverlin said. “The other team a lot of times is going to pitch to the line up, especially if they don’t know a lot about you. They’re really going to bear down on the guys who hit in the middle of the order. He accepted that challenge and performed at a level higher than we expected.’’

Rodriguez says he entered the season hoping to be the MEAC Rookie of the Year, but it wasn’t an honor that he consciously tried to win.

“I didn’t expect all of this success,’’ he said. “It came from a lot of preparation and help from my coaches. They were great and helped me with a lot. In college I’ve had to be shorter in coming to the ball. In high school I could be longer and still be able to hammer the ball. I made my adjustments and it showed. The pitching is a lot harder and the pitchers are a lot of better. I had to have a shorter swing.’’

Rodriguez went on a tear in the MEAC tournament. He batted .412 with three home runs and six RBIs and he scored seven runs as the Wildcats won their 18th conference title.

“His play was extremely important,’’ Beverlin said. “We had other guys in the lineup who had really good years, but they had cooled off a little bit. It was important for somebody in our lineup to take over that role and be somebody who stepped up.”

Rodriguez says he plans to keep the same approach in the NCAA Regional, which includes Georgia Tech and Connecticut in addition to Florida and the Wildcats. However, Beverlin says the Wildcats’ fate won’t depend on Rodriguez duplicating MEAC tournament performance.

“I like our lineup top to bottom,’’ he said.  “I don’t think the pressure is on him to repeat what he did in the conference tournament. The important thing for him is to stay consistent in his thinking. We’re confident good things will happen. It’s not all on him. His hitting won’t determine our wins and losses. He just has to continue to be himself and get in the box with a consistent approach and good things will happen.

“The biggest thing for us is to stay within ourselves and focus on us and not who we’re playing. When we really strive to play our very best we’re in every game. As long as we focus on what we can do, I like our chances against anybody.’’

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