By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- It's sometimes difficult to find baseball players that just seem to have that expansive knowledge of the game. It's never a natural trait, but rather one that develops over time as a result of commitment and willingness to absorb information.
Junior Corbin Lucas has grown into that type of player for Shenandoah University.
"I think he is the epitome of a baseball player, and this is what I mean. The knock on a lot of young players nowadays is that they don't understand the game, they don't have savvy. He is a baseball mind," Hornets head coach Kevin Anderson said of Lucas. "He understands, for example ... how to get a hustle double, go first to third. He's in the right spot at the right time, does a lot of things that, as a coach, you don't coach."
Lucas' vast knowledge of the game of baseball and his undying desire to continue to learn as much as he can about the sport is something that stands out not just to Anderson, but to his teammates as well.
Lucas' roommate, Shenandoah junior second baseman J.J. McDaniel, said Lucas' constant searching for ways to improve his game rubs off on his teammates, in turn benefiting each member of the Hornets' program.
"He just knows the game in and out," McDaniel said. "He'll always come to me and ask me questions and stuff like that just to see what I have to say, and then I'll give him an answer and he'll always just take it in, build on it and make everybody better."
It's that approach that has helped Lucas emerge as a leader for Shenandoah, but Lucas, who played high school baseball at Fort Defiance, said it's a trait that was only recently formed over the last few years as a member of Shenandoah's program.
"I had an OK understanding of the game of baseball, but coach Anderson teaches you how to play the right way," Lucas said. "My baserunning has improved dramatically. [Assistant coach Bruce] Cameron has taught me how to cut down on false steps. I take straight routes to the ball. Hitting-wise, coach Cameron has really helped me shorten my swing up.
"I've gotten a lot stronger and a lot faster... but the main thing has been the coaching, honestly. I had a good coach in high school, but they teach me a lot here that I didn't need to know in high school."
Lucas, who said he played some outfield in high school but was primarily an infielder his entire baseball career, was placed in left field for the Hornets during his freshman season in 2012 and quickly showed flashes of undeniable talent. A hot streak at the plate prompted Anderson to bat Lucas third in the lineup for a stint that season, and Lucas went on to earn second team all-USA South conference honors.
Lucas built on that success last year during Shenandoah's first season as a member of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. He finished second on the team with a .370 batting average, and he led the Hornets in RBIs (35), hits (60) and runs scored (41). Lucas also hit three home runs and stole seven bases, and was named a third team all-ODAC selection and a second team all-region pick by the American Baseball Coaches Association.
"In the three-hole my job is to drive in runs. Last year I led the team in RBIs and this year that's definitely what I need to do," Lucas said. "I'm going to come up in a lot of situations where it's tied or I need to put us up by a run ... the three-hole is spot that comes up in a lot of clutch situations, I think. I don't necessarily need to hit home runs every time, but ... I expect to hit the ball hard every time up, and I think that's why coach has me there."
Lucas said he's also helped out on the field by the friendly rivalry he has with McDaniel, as both players are constantly trying to outdo one another at the plate. Lucas recalled a moment during a game against Washington and Lee late last season where he and McDaniel each put on a power display for the Hornets.
"Last year the funniest thing that happened was in a game he had a home run, and then later he hit another home run... I remember him coming up to me and he was like getting in my face about hitting two home runs," Lucas said of McDaniel. "Then later I luckily hit two home runs in the same inning, and I always held that against him the rest of the year."
Lucas' impact isn't limited to the batter's box, however, as he has also been an important glove in the field for the Hornets. Last season, Lucas made the transition to center field and finished with a .980 fielding percentage, as he committed just two errors in 102 total chances.
His defense will be even more important this season, as Shenandoah will likely use senior Andrew Creamer, a first-baseman-turned-outfielder, in left field in an effort to get its best bats in the lineup. Anderson said Lucas has been instructed to catch every ball that is hit in the area spanning from the left-center field to right-center field gaps.
Lucas also played in every game last season -- one of only two Hornets to do so -- and he will continue to be relied upon as a consistent contributor this season for Shenandoah, which opens up its 2014 season with a home doubleheader against Muhlenberg on Saturday after the weather postponed this past weekend's slate of games.
"You don't have to worry about a thing. You just write his name in the lineup, you tell him to be aggressive and you let him play," Anderson said. "I know that sounds like maybe an old cliché, but that's basically all that we do. Sometimes if we see him getting frustrated we'll talk to him a little bit, but as a coach and manager, I just try to turn him loose and let him do his thing."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org