Curry focused on sharpening his game with Express

Strasburg Express catcher Michael Curry communicates with his infielders during their June 9 game against Purcellville. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – It would’ve been easy for Michael Curry to go into a mental block on the baseball diamond, a case of the yips taking hold and strangling all aspects of his game.

He was in the midst of making his mark on the college baseball scene as a power-hitting freshman at the University of Georgia this past spring when a hitch began to form in the catcher’s throwing motion. Curry could zip it around the bases just fine, but when it came to throwing the ball back to the pitcher, his mechanics took a dive.

Curry’s case of the yips, which grew as the NCAA season neared its conclusion, he said Tuesday, gained a bit of national attention after Georgia’s one-and-done trip to the SEC tournament on May 24, when a video of his awkward throws back to teammate Bo Tucker surfaced on social media. He became somewhat of an internet celebrity, but for the wrong reasons.

Curry, who’s playing for the Strasburg Express in the Valley Baseball League this summer, can laugh about it now. After all, he was later voted a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and a Perfect Game/Rawlings second team Freshman All-American.

“It ain’t nothing but a thing,” Curry said of his bizarre struggle. What is important is that he has managed to keep it confined to a single area of his game.

“I think that’s one thing I do kind of pat myself on the back for, I never really carried it around with me,” Curry said. “Granted, I’d be frustrated about it sometimes, like why, what is this? But I knew never to bring it over to my throws to the bases or my hitting or my receiving. That was one thing, like OK, I might struggle in this but I’m not gonna let it affect anything else.”

Curry, also a Freshman All-SEC selection, batted .262 in 54 games (50 starts) with 11 home runs, 34 RBIs, six doubles and 30 runs scored in his first collegiate season this past spring, an experience he described as up and down with an “0-for-20-something” dry spell at the plate thrown in.

His 11 homers, the most for a Georgia freshman since 2004, led the Bulldogs this past season and ranked third among all players in the SEC. Curry’s 34 RBIs were the second-most for Georgia in 2016.

Curry said his power at the plate was an aspect he began developing during his senior year at Gainesville (Georgia) High School, though that “big-swinger” mentality also brought with it an unappealingly high strikeout total (he struck out 61 times in 195 at-bats with the Bulldogs).

“I think it just kind of developed into a part of my game, but that’s something I try not to do,” Curry said of the power. “Of course I’m trying to go gap to gap and the home runs will come, but hey, ain’t nothing wrong with 11 home runs. Especially I think with my position, putting up numbers like that, that’s a good thing. But pop is good. Home runs are nice.”

Curry had yet to hit a homer with the Strasburg Express through Saturday, but that isn’t exactly why he’s competing in the Valley League. He’s using the opportunity to make himself a better defensive catcher.

“My footwork’s gotta get quicker,” said Curry, who had a .990 fielding percentage in 395 chances with Georgia while committing just four errors. “Blocking, I’ve been always OK, receiving, trusting my arm, working with throw-behinds and all that stuff.”

Of course, there are the throws back to the pitcher as well.

“It’s a funk and I’m working my way through it,” he said. “Every catcher goes through it and I’m not worried about it.”

In Strasburg’s first 23 games through last Saturday, Curry batted .304 with five doubles, seven RBIs and 12 runs scored in 69 at-bats.

The Express, who sit comfortably atop the North Division standings, have balanced productive offense with solid pitching so far this summer, but Curry said it’s been Strasburg’s ability to stay loose that has cultivated that success on the diamond.

“We’re literally just having fun, chatting it up in the dugout and just playing baseball,” Curry said.

“I think that’s why we are where we are now … is just because we’re not all tensed up, which I cherish. I think that’s awesome. That’s one thing I actually wanna take back to the university that I learned from here, is that I was on a pretty good summer team and I think why I was on a pretty good summer team was because we just played baseball.”

The Express won their first Valley Baseball League championship last summer, and Curry said he hopes Strasburg is primed for an encore performance.

“For me as a player, (I want to) develop and prepare myself for the fall for the University of Georgia. But while I’m here I’d definitely like to win another championship,” he said. “I saw the rings from last year, that was pretty exciting to see. I definitely want one of those.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com