Apparently, for UL junior slugger Ben Fitzgerald, it was about getting comfortable defensively.
In his first season with the Ragin’ Cajuns last season, Fitzgerald struggled in right field and the transition to Division I baseball didn’t go as well as he hoped offensively either at .208 with two homers and 13 RBIs over just 53 at-bats in the shortened 2020 season.
These days, Fitzgerald is settling in nicely as the everyday first baseman for the Cajuns when a nagging hamstring injury allows.
And oh yeah, the native of Mason City, Iowa just might be off to one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory for the Cajuns.
“I feel like I’m seeing the ball really well right now,” said Fitzgerald, whose Cajuns (18-11, 5-1) put their six-game winning streak on the line against Arkansas State (8-14, 3-3) at 6 p.m. Friday at Russo Park. “I’m just trying to keep things simple and put a good swing on it.
“Like 90% of hitting is mostly just confidence and feeling good in yourself and obviously after that first one, you’re feeling super confident. It’s weird, sometimes you have those days where it feels like anything you’re swinging at, you’re hitting good and the ball’s flying.”
Fitzgerald is currently leading the Cajuns at the plate with a .323 average in addition to a .688 slugging percentage and .417 on-base, thanks to 11 doubles, seven homers and 15 RBIs.
Showing his versatility, Fitzgerald’s also stolen four bases.
“For a power guy, he is just short and real quick to the baseball,” UL coach Matt Deggs said. “You’re going to get some swings and misses and get fooled, but man, when he’s confident you see what he’s capable of doing and he’s playing a pretty good first base as well.”
Yes, the decision to move Fitzgerald to first base has worked out better than some may have predicted.
“I think he’s done a pretty good job over there,” Deggs said. “I think he likes it. If he finds a position and settles in, he’ll definitely have a chance to play professionally. It’s a short quick bat full of lightning and I’m real proud of the way he’s played.”
Even Fitzgerald himself has been pleasantly surprised by the smooth transition.
“I do actually,” Fitzgerald said when asked if he likes it at first base. “This is the first time I’ve ever played first. Coach (Jake) Wells is doing a great job. We’ve been doing a good job of just kind of sticking to the fundamentals of fielding and getting to just hammer down the basic fundamentals of getting the routine play … hammering it out in practice and getting a lot of reps. I actually feel very comfortable over there, surprisingly.”
Understandably, there were a few growing pains early on.
“Honestly, like every single ball hit to my right, I wanted to go after,” he admitted. “I’d be like, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go (back to bag). They’re throwing it to me.’”
Perhaps unknown to many UL fans, Fitzgerald’s background may explain why his transition to the infield has been smooth.
“In high school, I played shortstop – my whole life, I played shortstop, believe it or not,” Fitzgerald revealed. “But when I got to junior college, I was kind of all over the place – different outfield spot, corner spots in the infield, so the past three or four years, I’ve been in a different position like every day.
“I feel comfortable over there at first.”
He even returned to the left side of the infield for a spell during a series at Southern Mississippi earlier this season.
That was interesting because Fitzgerald doesn’t even an infielders glove, but rather a first baseman’s mitt. After trying out a few, he elected to use Jonathan Brandon’s glove.
As scary as such an experiment could be for some, Fitzgerald enjoyed it.
“I actually did,” he said. “I made some stupid errors, but I felt pretty comfortable. Those reps at third for the Southern Miss game were, those were my first reps at third all year with no practice stepping in there.
“It allowed me to play with a mindset that if I mess up, I don’t really care, because I haven’t played here at all in two years or however long it’s been. So it was carefree sort of mindset coming into it, which I think works a lot for me.”
Fitzgerald has also adjusted well to hitting in different spots in the lineup. Of late, it’s been in the two-hole behind new leadoff hitter Bobby Lada.
“I’ve been up and down,” he said. “Wherever I’m at in the order, I don’t try to look into it too much. I know some people do and you strategize a little bit based off if you’re protecting someone behind you or in front of you or with runners on base.
“It doesn’t really bother me too much wherever I’m at. I’ve got to hit all over the place throughout my career. It’s not that big of a deal for me.”