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#STINGDAILY: Palka Smash!

Feb. 28, 2013

Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

When he goes about his business in the batter’s box, Daniel Palka does not carry the weight of a scientist’s approach. He’s not there to out-think anybody. His mind is free of clutter.

The goal is to clobber, and the plan is simple, really. If the Georgia Tech junior raker likes what he sees, he’s going to try and smash it.

It’s working. No Tech player in 10 years has so effectively thumped a baseball through the first nine games of the season. The rightfielder is hitting .559 after stringing together seven hits in the Yellow Jackets’ two-game sweep at Georgia Southern.

Palka doesn’t care much about a pitcher’s plan, nor his tendencies.

“I’m more of a see-it-and-hit-it [player],” he said of his approach. “If it’s in the strike zone, I’m going to swing at it.”

With an ACC-best 19 hits in 34 at-bats, plus a league-leading on-base percentage of .625, the  6-foot-2, 225-pounder from Lyman, S.C., appears to know quite well what he’s doing even if he’s not thinking about it.
  
It’s not the way of work for everybody.

Volunteer assistant coach Wally Crancer hit .542 through the first nine games of the 2007 season for Tech. He did it differently. Crancer’s not saying any one way is the right way. He’s simply marveling over the way Palka is doing what he’s doing.

“I was probably more the other way, especially if I was ahead in the count, because I would try to watch a pitcher’s pattern,” Crancer said. “He’s really aggressive, but in a good way. If I had two strikes, then I was more of a reaction guy. Until then, I would be more of a scientific hitter. I was more likely to look for a [certain] pitch, and hit that pitch.

“But he can stay back better than most, and do damage inside, outside, up or down, and that’s what he’s doing up there – putting good swings on the ball.”

Palka’s big on spreading the ball and credit.

The Jackets are hitting .339 as a team, which is stout, while opponents are batting .211. It helps that Tech has committed just six errors in nine games, a big improvement. Senior pitcher Buck Farmer, who will make his third start tonight at 6 p.m. against Rutgers, has not allowed a run yet.

It all adds up to a certain piece of mind, a lack of pressure that fosters success. Call it confidence.

“I’ve got a lot of good hitters around me; I’m able to see good pitches,” he said. “There’s no one you can pitch around in our lineup right now. It’s pretty much stacked one through nine.

It’s exciting. There’s a lot more intensity from a team aspect. That’s something that we’ve all grown to want, to play harder this year.”

The Jackets had a large share of struggles last regular season; they were the last team to qualify for the ACC tournament, where they drew hot at the right time and became the first No. 8 seed in league history to win the thing.

In contrast to the collective change in attitude among the Jackets this regular season from last, Palka said he hasn’t changed or adjusted anything he’s doing. It’s not like he just showed up. He was drafted in the 19th round by the Phillies out of high school, but opted to attend Tech.

All he’s done is hit .297 as a freshman, when his 12 home runs led the team, and then hit .303 last season, when his 19 doubles were a team high as he added another dozen dingers. He combined for 99 RBI in those seasons, and he has 12 already this winter.

Something is not quite the same, however, in what’s happening at the plate. Crancer sees it especially clearly.

“The biggest thing that he’s done this year is his pitch selection is a lot better,” Wally said.

Now that you mention it, Palka agrees. He’s struck out just four times while walking four. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio over his first two collegiate seasons was 121-38.

This helps explain his dramatic trend upward from a combined on-base percentage of .377 the past two seasons to .625 so far.

For this, he credits time spent the past two summers in the Cape Cod League, where last summer he was MVP of the All-Star game.

“I just kind of locked in . . . it’s pitch recognition,” he said. “That just came with growing up.”
  
Palka’s not one to elaborate. Crancer, on the other hand, puts it in more simple terms.

“If you have a pitcher who looks at a lineup and sees three or four or five batters in a row that he doesn’t want to make a mistake to . . . a lot of time they try to be too perfect, and then they’re behind 2-0 or 3-1 with counts where you can do some damage,” the coach said.

“And he’s got such good hands and such power . . . he can spray the ball around with the best of them. He’s doing a really good job letting pitches go.”

Until, that is, Palka gets one he can clobber.

Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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