Feb. 2, 2012
By Jon Cooper
If diversity really is the spice of life, Sam Dove’s life is getting into the range of “five-alarm” chili.
The junior from Brentwood, Tenn., is taking ground balls at second base this season, a year after taking fly balls in left field and two years after taking grounders at shortstop, or anywhere he could to get onto the team.
“I came in, I was a shortstop-second base guy, having played shortstop in high school. So all freshman year I was on the infield,” he said. “Then, last year, my sophomore year, they moved me to the outfield. So it’s kind of coming back.”
Dove’s glove has made the movement from position to position easy. He didn’t make an error in left field last season, flawlessly fielding all 71 chances and chalking up four assists. The four assists led the team, and the 75 total chances without an error was seventh-best in the ACC.
“It’s just something that you have to work on daily,” he said. “During BP you can’t take that too lightly. You have to have reads on balls and that’s what I did in the outfield. Every day I’d come out here and get extra reads on balls. Fortunately, I got pretty good at it, I guess.”
He’s already gotten pretty good at second, where he said it took him one day to re-adjust.
“The first day was a little strange, visually, things looked close to all the action,” he said. “But right after that it felt natural again. It felt like I hadn’t moved to the outfield for one day.”
Dove has convinced Head Coach Danny Hall, and not just with his ability to field, but on technical aspects, like turning the double play, something that Dove had to learn all over and from a different point of view.
“At shortstop you can always see the runner. You have everything in front of you on double plays,” said Hall. “At second the runner’s coming at you blind. So I think it is different. But through a lot of repetition and a lot of practice, playing a lot of intersquad games, he’s gotten real comfortable with turning double plays from that side.
“He’s a real good player. He’s very smart, a very heady player,” he added. “I haven’t seen anything to make me think he can’t do it.”
Hall already knows Dove can hit. That’s what’s led to all the repositioning in the first place.
“He swung the bat so well last year we needed to try to find a spot for him to get in there and play, and so it just ended up being the outfield.”
Dove, who was fifth on the club with a.310 batting average last season, knows where he needs to improve and believes he did over the summer, playing in the Virginia-based Valley League, where he batted .343 (ninth in the league), with a .441 slugging percentage in 37 games for the Harrisonburg Turks.
“I need to take more aggressive swings and a more aggressive approach over last year, hitting the ball a lot better,” he said. “I believe, I chased a lot of curveballs in the dirt last year so I need more discipline and really just be more aggressive not only in the box but on the base paths.”
Dove should want to be more aggressive on the bases, as he was 6-for-7 in stolen bases, tied for fifth on the team with shortstop Mott Hyde (Hyde also was 6-for-7).
Hall is looking for big things at the plate from Dove.
“I think he’s a little stronger, so I think he has a chance to hit with a little more power this year,” Hall said. “I felt like he did a real good job of being a good, competitive hitter and I think he’s better this year. He’s a year older, a year strong and he has the experience of playing last year. So I think it will definitely pay off for him.”
Dove is not alone in being a year older and a year wiser and believes the proof will soon be born out on the field.
“I can tell, mainly with the maturity of the guys and mentally more than anything, they’re feeling more comfortable, they’re not pressing as much,” he said. “They’re not playing for the coaches or anything. They’re playing their game now. Usually, as a freshman, you come in and there’s always other factors that you think about, being on the big stage for the first time. You’re nervous about playing well. I think everybody is just more comfortable. I think everybody is pumped up, everybody is very focused and knows what they want to do this year.”