TAMPA — Once a coach, always a coach. It doesn’t really matter what level you have coached at, watching a baseball practice a coaches eyes naturally look for ball players, guys that stand out, and difference makers. Such was the case watching the USF Bulls practice recently.
Redshirt sophomore Nik Alfonso caught my eye even before I would meet him and is one of the reasons Coach Lelo Prado is optimistic about the upcoming 2014 season. Apparently I am not the only one, as he was named to the 2014 Preseason All-American Athletic Conference Team.
Alfonso came to USF from baseball tradition rich Tampa Catholic High School. Coach Prado played there as did his father Tony Alfonso, who also played for USF and in the Angels organization. He was voted team MVP in 2011 after hitting .380 with 15 RBI.
After sitting out his freshman year Alfonso burst on to the scene in 2013 hitting .331 and posting a team leading .420 OBP. With three more years of eligibility he talked about where he goes from here.
I asked after a great year last year, how he planned to repeat those numbers in 2014?
“First things first, going into it you have to have the right mindset, you’ve got to have confidence,” Alfonso said. “You can take as many swings as you want, practice as hard as you want, and if you don’t have it mentally it doesn’t really matter. I played summer ball and really worked on mentally preparing for each and every day, and I think thats really going to help me this year. Last year I had a good year, but I know as an athlete it could be a lot better. Honestly, I’ve put in twice as much work this year, as it will be going forward.”
During batting practice I watched as he dove for ground balls with game like intensity, and with particular attention to working on his backhand.
“I like my backhand but I don’t get to as many ground balls as I want to,” Alfonso admitted. “Its something I’m working on. I’m not the biggest, not the strongest , not the fastest, I don’t hit the ball the farthest , I don’t have the best arm, but what I do and what i bring to the table is that I come out here and work hard every day. Even though I’m only a redshirt sophomore, I think the other guys take to that and see how much work I put in. My father has always been my mentor and growing up like I said, I was never a big standout athlete, but I was always told if you play the game you play it hard.”
Alfonso surprised some of the competition last year with his performance and that won’t happen this year. Preseason All Conference selections don’t fly under the radar.
“Its a challenge I look forward to, and I’m excited to work extra hard this year,” Alfonso explained.
Bulls fans should be excited too.