The longest hitting streak in NCAA Division I college baseball belongs to a most unlikely player.
Before hitting safely in 27 consecutive games, Air Force catcher Rob Dau was the No. 8 hitter – a walk-on whose defense carried him into a starting role. He hit just .237 over 257 at-bats over his first two years. At 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, he’s even the smallest player on the team.
“I’m not really sure where this came from,” said Dau, who collected three more hits Wednesday in a 22-5 victory over Colorado Christian to extend the streak and raise his batting average to .359. “I try not to think about it too much, I just go up there and try to put the bat on the ball, swing early and try to put the ball in play. Twenty-seven games later, it seems to be working.
“Something clicked, I guess.”
Part of the clicking was simply adapting to a new role. Last year Dau hit near the bottom of the order and was asked to move runners. So that’s what he did, laying down nine sacrifice bunts to tie for fifth most in a season. His four sacrifice flies ranked fourth in the Mountain West.
But when accomplished hitters Adam Groesbeck, Bradley Haslam, Tyler Jones and Russell Williams graduated, Dau decided it was time to change his approach.
He’s now batting fourth in the order and trails only preseason All-American Nic Ready for the team lead in RBIs with 37 (Ready has 42).
“He’s the best catcher in our conference," Air Force coach Mike Kazlausky said. “Now he has the confidence in his offensive ability, which has been awesome to watch Rob blossom into a complete player for us.”
Dau said his work on defense remains his biggest source of pride, and he leads the Mountain West in would-be base stealers thrown out for the second straight year. He’s also helped the pitching staff knock 1.36 points off its ERA from last year.
Kazlausky doesn’t claim to have predicted any of this for the junior from Georgia. Everyone at Air Force is, in a sense, considered a walk-on because there are no scholarships awarded at a military academy where nobody pays tuition. However, athletic programs are allotted a certain number of slots that they can assist in the admission process. Dau wasn’t one of them.
“We did know about Rob, but at the end of the day he got in on his own and had to make our team,” Kazlausky said. “He did just that and we’re very excited and happy that he’s here, for sure.”