Updated: February 14, 2010 at 12:00 am
Matt Alexander didn’t come to Air Force as a power hitter. He was a good player in high school, but hit only three home runs as a senior. In 185 at-bats as a freshman, he also hit only three home runs.
As Alexander enters his senior season, which begins Friday at Cal State Bakersfield, his improvement has been dramatic.
Alexander, a designated hitter and first baseman, hit seven home runs in 2008 and 15 in 2009. His slugging percentage improved from .411 to .529 to .710 his first three college seasons, and his average improved 36 points as a sophomore and 77 points as a junior.
Last year he was named first-team Pro-Line Athletic NCBWA All-America and third-team PingBaseball.com All-America. He was among the 16 semifinalists for the Dick Howser Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top college baseball player.
The strides Alexander have made have been impressive, but he understands why he has gotten better every year.
“I am surprised, but at the same time I’m not,” Alexander said.
Alexander said aluminum bats in college and the altitude have helped with his power numbers, but he acknowledged it is much more than that.
Physically, he matured like most college-age athletes. He came to Air Force at 180 pounds and now weighs 210.
But even that isn’t the biggest reason for his rapid improvement.
“From freshman year to now, the biggest thing is the maturity and understanding the game,” Alexander said.
Alexander credited the coaches for teaching him the finer points of the game. He came to the Falcons as a pull hitter, but worked on hitting to the opposite field. He also said that not letting bad at-bats linger in his mind has helped him tremendously. If he strikes out, he can leave that behind and focus on his next trip to the plate. He said he has been trying to pass that lesson along to his freshman teammates.
“You hear all the time about how baseball is mostly mental, but it’s true,” Alexander said.
Coach Mike Hutcheon praised Alexander’s work ethic, saying he is always hanging around after practice to take extra swings.
“He has made himself into a great hitter,” said Hutcheon, while pointing out Alexander had some natural ability such as bat speed and raw power. “All it really took was a lot of at-bats to learn how to hit.”
Alexander said he’s not worried about improving his numbers again, but hopes the team’s record improves. Last year the Falcons were 14-37, but with a group of six senior leaders — Alexander, K.J. Randhawa, Alex Truesdale, Ben Ausbun, Michael Ruvolo and Addison Gentry — there is hope that 2010 will be better.
“They’re excited about the direction the program is going, and the new talent,” Hutcheon said. “They’ve been waiting for this moment.”