May 25, 2012
This feature appeared in the Friday edition of the K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
For the first time since the 1973 and 1974 Kansas State baseball seasons, the Wildcats have a talent who has earned at least second team all-conference recognition as a freshman "and" a sophomore.
Then, it was the late pitcher Andy Replogle; now, its sophomore outfielder Jared King, who for the second straight year was decorated with All-Big 12 Second Team honors.
Down the home stretch of the season when K-State faced must-wins in order to make the Big 12 Championship, the center fielder hit a remarkable .418 over the last 14 games.
"He's been pretty phenomenal," said K-State head coach Brad Hill. "He's just been on a tear for the last three weeks. He's hitting the ball the other way and that's how everything starts falling into place. He's been putting on a pretty good show."
The show is getting rave reviews, as King won the Big 12 regular-season batting crown with a .378 average, plus hit seven home runs and cashed in on 45 RBI. He was second in the league in hits (79), total bases (120) and slugging percentage (.574). He was also ranked in the top 10 in seven other offensive categories.
Then in the first two games of the Big 12 Championship, King has gone 1-for-2 in an opening loss to Baylor, but then opened the elimination game on Thursday with a two-run triple in the first inning that sent the Wildcats on their way to a lop-sided 11-5 victory over Oklahoma State. He finished the game going 2-of-5 with two RBI and two runs scored.
K-State (27-30) will now face top-seed and No. 6 Baylor (43-13) at 3:15 p.m. today for the second time in as many days in an elimination game.
Of his late-season heroics, the Dublin, Ohio, native said, "I've just been trying to see the ball deep and working it to all fields depending on where they're pitching me. It's all about timing and hitting it where it's pitched."
Entering the season there was reason to lob out the term "sophomore jinx" after King won Freshman All-American honors last year when he hit .307 with eight homers and 40 RBI.
"I just wanted to improve. This year I think I've been more disciplined and maturing more as a hitter," said King, who had only one bad stretch to his season when he was 5-for-28 during a seven-game stretch from March 27 to April 6.
Since then, he has hit safely in 24 of his last 29 games with his 34-inch, 31-ounce TPK bat.
"For the most part he's kept his game together pretty good," said Hill. "When he hits the ball the other way he's as good as anybody in the league. When he wants to be a pull hitter he becomes just another guy in the league. There was one stretch when he was probably trying to do too much with runners on base."
What King has had to try to do this year was make folks forget that there were two Kings in the lineup last year when older brother, Jason, manned third base. The elder King had three seasons where he hit .274, .316 and .326 leading him to become a fourth-round draft selection by the Detroit Tigers after his junior season in 2011.
Not taking anything away from his present hitting instructors at K-State, King said, "My dad and brother know my swing better than anyone and have always given me good feedback. I think my dad can tell what's wrong and where the ball went by the sound of the ball hitting the bat."
For certain, athletics is in the King family, as dad, Jeff, played at Ohio State and professionally in the New York Yankees organization, while his grandfather, Frank, played four seasons of football at Ohio State under legendary coach Woody Hayes.
Today, Jeff makes every weekend trip in his Winnebago to where Jared is playing, and does his best to follow Jason, who is now in uniform for the West Michigan Whitecaps of the Class A Midwest League.
"I've had a thrill of a lifetime watching Jason and Jared play," father King said. "They've had some really good games together. Those were the lifetime memories when I decided to do this."