BASEBALL: Slenker ’17 talks team, personal success

The Yale baseball team (17—19, 9—7 Ivy) finds itself in prime position to win the Red Rolfe division for the first time since 1995 — and a big part of that has been third baseman Richard Slenker ’17. The freshman is second on the team with a 0.326 batting average and third in on-base percentage (0.402) and slugging percentage (0.384). The News sat down with Slenker to ask about his season and the team’s success.

Q. How has the transition to college baseball been?

A. It’s an adjustment, it’s definitely an adjustment. The game’s a lot quicker and the pitching’s obviously a lot better. In terms of batting, you really have to take advantage of pitchers’ mistakes, not only the situation, and as [assistant] coach [Tucker] Frawley really points out, you have to understand a lot more of what pitches you’re going to face and what you’re going to get rather than what you want to get. It’s a much cleaner game. Everything you do has to be much more precise, and you have to execute.

Q. What’s the biggest difference between playing in high school and playing in college?

A. It’s the speed of the game, definitely. And the caliber of players is on a different level. Everyone you face is going to be good. I think that’s definitely the biggest difference.

Q. You played for Bobby Valentine’s All-American team during your sophomore summer in high school. What was that experience like? What is Bobby like?

A. That was a pretty incredible summer. I played with kids who are playing professional baseball right now, kids who are playing college baseball — I’ve actually played a few of them. Playing under Bobby was pretty incredible. It was very educational, and you learn a lot from him. He’s been around the game for so long, he’s a good person to talk to and learn from.

Q. You’re second on the team in batting average. What has been the key to your success this season?

A. I just try to stay consistent and hit the ball hard. Coming into the season, I was around the older guys as much as I could, and they all just say you can’t let the peaks and the troughs of the season get to you too much. You just try to hit the ball hard, and the hits will fall. I definitely try to keep a pretty even-keeled approach to the season.

Q. You have only nine strikeouts all season, by far the fewest among anybody on the team with as many at-bats as you’ve had. Is that part of your approach at the plate?

A. Yeah, when I get down to two strikes I try my best just to fight. With two strikes, you have to shorten up and try to take a little bit different approach to put the ball in play and challenge the defense. I try my best not to go down without giving the defense a shot to mess up. If I can hit it, I might as well hit it.

Q. The team had two walk-off wins [on Sunday], and you had a weekend earlier in the season where you had two walk-offs. Is that a team mentality? How has the team been able to have so much success?

A. I’ve never had as many walk-offs in a season, and that’s just us. We haven’t given up all season. We’ve come back from deficits pretty late in the game. That’s just our team character. We definitely don’t give in, and we fight, and we make things happen. [Yesterday], the second game was 10 innings, and we had guys in scoring position and chances to win the game earlier, but it didn’t work out. Finally, Green [Campbell ’15] today was the guy to do it. It’s just a testament to how hard we play.

Q. With just one weekend left in the season, how confident are you in your team and your team’s ability to win the Red Rolfe division?

A. If we just take the right approach, we play hard and [how] we fought hard today, I think that if we take that same approach for next weekend we’ll be fine. I have a lot of confidence in everyone on the team, and if you look at the box scores everyone did something and contributed, so I have a lot of confidence that we can get the job done.

Q. Do you have any long-term goals for your entire Yale career?

A. I just want to continue to hit. As of right now, I’m looking towards next weekend. I think the group of guys we have going forward, even after this year, is a very strong group of guys. I’m very excited to see what we can do.

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