May 22, 2013
This feature appeared in the May 22 edition of the K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
Kansas State has Brad Hill as its head baseball coach, plus Josh Reynolds and Mike Clement to handle the pitchers and hitters, respectively.
But once the game starts, it’s Blair DeBord who also has a vote as to how the Wildcats are going to play the game.
Heading into Thursday’s 12:30 p.m. contest against Texas Tech in the schedule-adjusted Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City, DeBord is K-State’s junior catcher, who has welcomed the chore of calling pitches during this historic 2013 Big 12 Conference championship season.
“Not every catcher wants that responsibility, but Blair has since his freshman year,” said Hill of his All-Big 12 First Team catcher. “His leadership has helped us more than anything else. He’s demonstrated great leadership and has done a wonderful job of handling a young pitching staff. He’s a guy who plays the game hard, and doesn’t get too up or too down.”
On the chore of calling pitches, DeBord, a local product of Manhattan High School, says, “I just like the feeling of being more in the game … more in control of the game. Being on the field, I think I can have a feel for how things are going that the coaches can’t feel in the dugout.
“I think I can feel when a hitter is looking fast ball, so let’s throw a breaking ball. I think I can give us a better chance to pitch it well,” said DeBord. “We have pitchers who can throw any pitch in any situation. When everyone else in the nation is thinking fast ball, I’m not afraid to throw a change-up.”
The result has been a staff ERA of 3.80, the lowest at K-State in the aluminum bat era (since 1977), plus the ‘Cats allowed no more than three runs in 10 Big 12 games this season.
While Hill isn’t afraid to give DeBord credit, DeBord is pleased to pass complimentary words back the other way.
“Coach (Sean, former pitching coach) McCann was big on catchers calling the game and (Daniel, former catcher) Dellasega was important in passing the duty down to me,” said DeBord, who is one of 15 players on the semifinalist list for the Johnny Bench Award, which goes to America’s No. 1 catcher. “And, coach Reynolds’ scouting reports are such a big deal especially with that first game on Friday.”
DeBord has caught 54 of K-State’s 58 games heading into the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament, but says, “I’m really not tired. If anything maybe a little mentally tired, but it’s one of those things where you have no time to think about it. This is a time we all will remember for the rest of our lives. In no way am I going to ask to come out of a game.”
DeBord was a .340 hitter with a .467 on-base percentage as a freshman in 2010, but then had to sit out the 2011 season due to a shoulder injury. Back in the lineup last year, he was a .257 hitter with his on-base percentage dipping to .333.
He’s currently hitting .321 with 11 extra base hits and 30 RBI. Remarkably, in his three-year career he’s committed only three errors for a .995 fielding average.
“I didn’t hit like I wanted to last year, or even last summer in the Texas summer league,” said DeBord. “Even this fall I couldn’t find a comfort zone and was changing everything from my stance, to my swing trying to find comfort. Finally, I just decided no more changes. Stick with one thing and it’s worked.”
While DeBord tries to out-think hitters when he’s calling a game from behind the plate, he has to be careful not to out-think himself too much as a hitter in guessing what the pitcher’s going to throw.
“As a catcher you don’t want to be predictable. At times when you think the hitter’s guessing fast ball, you come with a breaking pitch, but other times you come with that fast ball just so you’re not predictable,” said DeBord. “As a hitter if you think too much about what’s coming, you can get yourself into trouble.”