Thursday, February 29, 2024

McCuiston credits patience for breakout season

April 18, 2002
Senior center outfielder Chris McCuiston warms up between the second and third inning of Wednesday afternoon's game against Grand Valley State University at Kob's Field. His 12 home runs and 45 RBIs lead the team. —

Patience has been a huge virtue for center fielder Chris McCuiston this season.

In this, his senior season, McCuiston has finally settled down in the batters box and become a serious hitting machine. Adding bulk and becoming a more complete hitter, he has helped MSU to a 23-8 record and a 6-5 mark in the Big Ten.

“The big improvement for me has been repetition,” McCuiston said. “In the past, I was more anxious because I was finally getting an at-bat and I just wanted to swing the bat. Getting more at-bats this year has allowed me to recognize pitches and be more consistent.”

With the consistent playing time, McCuiston has raised his batting average each of the last three years. His sophomore year, he hit .248 (33-for-133), improving slightly junior year with a .277 mark (46-for-166).

With continuous help and advice from third-year hitting coach Cory Mee, McCuiston is having a year with All-American numbers. McCuiston not only is hitting .364 and continuously adding to a personal single-season hits record, he’s leading the Big Ten in homers and RBIs with 12 and 45, respectively. He also is second on the team in hits with 47 and has a .721 slugging percentage.

“At the plate, he’s done a much better job at being disciplined,” Mee said. “He’s not chasing pitches out of his zone, and when he’s gotten a good pitch to hit he’s taken advantage of it and you can see the results.”

In batting practice Wednesday, McCuiston hit a couple over the wall in left center, but he also laced a couple line drives to right.

“On top of (his consistency), he’s learned how to use the whole field to hit,” Mee said. “You could have called him strictly a pull hitter, and now he has the ability to hit balls hard to all parts of the field.”

McCuiston said being able to lay off the early off-speed pitches had enabled him to be more dangerous. His newfound patience allows him to get deep into the count, until he sees the pitch he wants.

For McCuiston, that pitch is the fastball.

“I love a low fastball,” McCuiston said. “It doesn’t matter where it is. Just keep it down and that’s the pitch I hit.

“If I get my fastball, I’m gonna try and take advantage of it. I’m gonna get my pitch, get in a good hitter’s count and capitalize on it.”

When junior Bob Malek came to MSU, McCuiston was moved from right field to center field. He gave way, allowing for Malek to develop into a major league right fielder.

However, the two hold no grudges and often see eye to eye.

“We always try to work together,” Malek said. “He’s been a great leader and has set an example for the younger guys by going out every day, working hard every day and you see it’s paid off.”

McCuiston’s ability to put up big numbers doesn’t come without his fare share of superstitions.

“Before all games, I try to eat some spaghetti,” McCuiston said. “I try and fill up on the carbs. I also put my socks on a certain way, my jersey on a certain way, my shoes on a certain way.

“I also put a ring of tape on my fingers. I noticed Tiger Woods do that when he was trying to break out of a slump one time, so I tried it and I’ve stuck with it ever since. It’s fun doing all that stuff and it gets you in that mind-set.”

Dreaming of playing professional baseball has propelled McCuiston to never give up and continue to work hard. Along with his enthusiasm and work ethic, his numbers have made that dream a possibility.

“I’ve talked to many scouts about Chris and I know a lot of professional scouts like him,” Spartan manager Ted Mahan said. “I know some mentioned that they might put him in the professional draft, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get drafted. We sure hope he gets that opportunity - he deserves it.”

McCuiston said there’s no question he’d love to make his living between the chalked lines. But if the majors don’t come knocking, he maintains a 3.3 grade-point average as a finance major.

“You always want to play pro,” McCuiston said. “That’s why you play sports. It’s always been in the back of my mind and this year I’m taking it one step further.”

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