On the worst day in the dead of winter, as a merciless January storm blew threw Kentuckiana—leaving behind downed power lines, broken tree limbs and nearly impassable roads—Louisville’s Chris Dominguez acknowledged the obvious.
Yep, he probably shouldn’t be out driving in it.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it since I’ve been up here,” the Cardinals junior third baseman and former resident of tropical Miami said.
Then again, Dominguez couldn’t help himself. Other student-athletes might have called it a day, plopped on the couch back at the dorm and grabbed a blanket for a long, overdue nap. Yet team captains, as teammates had anointed him and two others, don’t take naps, let alone take days off.
Besides, the word is out: Dominguez is back here because he refused to sign with the Rockies last summer after Colorado used its fifth-round pick on him. It marked the first time since 2003 that a collegian drafted in the fifth round had not signed.
“To show the team the ropes and lead by example is a big thing for these young guys,” Dominguez said. “I’m not one of those types that likes to tell guys what to do. But it’s a great honor to be a team captain.”
Of course, Dominguez better deliver in returning to bat cleanup in Dan McDonnell’s lineup as he not only tries to jockey 23rd-ranked Louisville to its second College World Series berth in three years but also attempts to strengthen his draft stock.
Times are much different than a year ago when Dominguez roamed as a draft-eligible sophomore, a title that arguably afforded him a greater benefit of the doubt than, say, members of the 2008 junior draft class.
Back then he was en route to hitting .365/.424/.687 and sharing the Big East Conference home run title (21) with Cincinnati’s Mike Spina while also leading the conference in total bases (171). He also finished second in RBIs (75), runs scored (68) and slugging.
But given his decision to stiff-arm the Rockies last summer and the fact his improved return to the Cape Cod League featured league bests in home runs (10) and extra-base hits (22), evaluations likely will be less forgiving this year when scouts parachute in.
The biggest questions he must answer center on whether he has truly exterminated his penchant for strikeouts and has put his Rockies experience behind him.
Dominguez, who won a medical redshirt his freshman season after suffering a broken arm in just his third game, shaved off 41 strikeouts last season, increased his hits total by 20 to 91 and did so in 22 fewer at-bats.
“He had some of the best tools in the Cape Cod League with his power and arm strength,” an American League scouting director said. “But it comes down to making consistent contact. He did make more contact (in 2008), but he still had a lot of strikeouts.”
Fortunately for Dominguez, he recognizes the situation and acknowledges that his success of a year ago will not automatically translate to a big 2009. He also has moved on since the contract talks with Colorado, whom he said surprised him by not offering another contract after initial talks broke off.
Underscoring his commitment, then, is that snowy drive to the workout room at a time when he and his roomie, first baseman Andrew Clark, were without running water but had electricity powering the TV.
“I have no regrets,” Dominguez said. “I don’t live in the past about the decisions I make. Maybe I didn’t get drafted as high as I would’ve liked to. But things happen for a reason. To have had a chance to go back to the Cape and now to have a chance to go back to the College World Series, I think it’s worked out for the better.”
Said McDonnell, whose team finished 41-21 last year and fell short of reaching Omaha, “He doesn’t have the disease that he feels he’s arrived. He hasn’t reached that comfort zone where he expects things to come easy to him.”
The strikeouts and Dominguez’s rebuffing of the Rockies apparently are dead issues in Louisville, where among McDonnell’s chief tasks is assigning a No. 3 hitter ahead of Dominguez now that Justin McClanahan is in the Blue Jays system.
Apparently, McDonnell isn’t too worried.
“I always joke around that the kid that hits in front of him ought to pay me,” the coach said.
As you might expect, McDonnell is Dominguez’s biggest fan.
The third-year coach notes that Dominguez’s percent of body fat has fallen from 20 to 14, that he’s bench pressing more than 300 pounds (an increase of 235 pounds) and, most importantly, has cut down on strikeouts.
“I told him, ‘There’s no sense in being mad at professional baseball,’ and ‘You have a resume now and can be a face of college baseball,’” said McDonnell, whose program emphasizes an aggressive offensive attack. “I laugh at (worries over strikeouts). Do you want a guy that hits singles and is a Punch-and-Judy hitter? You know, at some point, you have to swing hard.”
Said Dominguez, “Offensively, I don’t have any personal goals set but I want to keep the average up and drive in runs when needed. I’m a very aggressive hitter. I’ll swing and miss occasionally.
“I’ve just got to be prepared and try to have a plan when I go up to the plate. I just have to have a mental approach, really, and that’s helped me the last couple of years. Everything is coming together. Hopefully.”