You could say Erik Sheetz, 21, of Aberdeen, is one of those athleteswho takes a coach's advice to heart.
Perhaps that's the reason why the 1988 graduate of Havre de Grace had such a successful year as ajunior first baseman for Towson State University this spring.
"If you tell him something, he'll put it to use," said Mike Gottlieb, TSU's head baseball coach.
Said Marty Smith, Sheetz's coach this summer on Reisterstown, a men's unlimited baseball team, "He wants to improve. He has a tremendous attitude. He doesn't think he knowseverything."
They have both seen Sheetz blossom into one of the areas top college players.
What exactly did Sheetz learn?
First lesson: to become more patient at the plate. He isn't afraid to take a strike or two if he doesn't like the pitch.
"Gottlieb has been helpful the whole time I've been here," said Sheetz. "He's helped me adapt my swing. . . . He's very good at analyzing your swing."
Witha new and improved swing, Sheetz spent the season rewriting the record books for TSU.
He hit .355 with 17 homers and 60 runs batted in, along with 49 runs scored.
He led the Tigers to an East Coast Conference Championship and a spot in the NCAA Northeast Regional.
The Tigers lost their opener to Mississippi State, 10-4, bounced back to beat Princeton, 5-0, but were eliminated by Maine, 8-0.
The stocky, 5-foot-11, 195-pounder played a men's unlimited game last Tuesday against Linbrook, and went 2-5 with a double and a homer. But his home run wasn't just any home run, says coach Smith.
"Markers don'teven tell the story," said Smith. "I mean it was a bullet! And the one he hit foul before that was probably hit even further."
Sheetz says he is in the summer league "to have fun and stay in shape."
Named East Coast Conference Player of the Week twice during
the season at TSU, he doubled and tripled some of his stats from two years ago when he hit six homers and had 26 RBIs.
He says he can relax more now as a player, and through trial and error now has an understanding of his abilities.
"I've tried almost everything at one time oranother to correct my swing," he says.
In high school, Sheetz wasa member of the National Honor Society and won the Harford County Scholar-Athlete award.
As a senior on the high school baseball team,he hit .487 with 10 home runs and led the Warriors to the state championship in 1988. He was an All-Metro and All-County selection. Even with those stats, he found it difficult to adjust
to college ball,especially pitching. Sheetz was also an All-County football player in high school but chose baseball because he knew he would only be able to concentrate on one sport.
"I always loved baseball more," he said.
But as a freshman on the college team he found he wasn't hitting well and wasn't catching up to fastballs. "I had high school timing. It was a big jump."
After his freshman year, he spent his summer playing in the Metro College League in Virginia and did it again after his sophomore year.
"I think last summer was the summer thathelped me out the most," said Sheetz. "I started to learn to stay back on the ball more and wait on the curveball and have better pitch selection."
Said Gottlieb, who recruited Sheetz, "From early on, I thought he had a lot of potential."
Smith, the Reisterstown team coach, said, "He's definitely a major league prospect. . . . The improvement in his game has been phenomenal, especially in the last year."
In a span of just seven games for the Tigers this spring, Sheetz was 15-30 (.500) at the plate, with 16 RBIs and six home runs.
He caught the attention of North Carolina State head coach Ray Tanner when he twice smashed two balls over the 400-foot mark of the center-field fence in the same game. Coach Gottlieb said Tanner said to him, "That boy sure can hit, can't he?"
A marketing major at TSU with a 3.2 GPA, Sheetz plans to graduate on time next May.
He dreams of playing baseball professionally, but for now he's absorbing himself inthe sport and listening to the advice of coaches. Along with playingup to five games a week this summer, he is working at a baseball camp this month at TSU.