‘Lead-off’ man heads baseball charge

Cody Grice is the only player on the roster to start all 24 games this season.

Andrew Mills

Cody Grice is the only player on the roster to start all 24 games this season.

Emanuel Johnson

Prior to yesterday’s doubleheader against Hillsdale College, the No. 12 Grand Valley State University baseball team was off to a 17-5 start for the season, and much of that success is due to strong play by sophomore centerfielder Cody Grice.

Grice, who is the only player on the roster to start all 24 games this season, serves as the team’s lead-off man. With a slugging percentage at .730 prior to yesterday, he performs all of the tasks that a lead-off man should.

“That’s one of the things he’s gotten better at, his ability to put the bat on the ball,” said GVSU head coach Steve Lyon. “He spent a lot of time in the off-season preparing for this season. He had a really good freshman season last year and has continued to get better here in his sophomore season. Being the lead-off guy, he often times sets the table for our offense.”

Last season Grice finished with a .588 slugging percentage in 49 games started. He attributes his improved performance at the plate this season to a change in his approach to hitting.

“My mental approach to hitting has improved a lot since last year,” he said. “By watching the whole game and having a purpose when I go to the plate, I can sort of guess what pitches will come and how a pitcher will pitch me. It helps me decide what pitches to swing at and which ones to lay off of.”

The mental change has also given him the ability to drive the ball further than he did last year. In his freshman season, Grice finished with 68 hits, but only 12 were multi-base hits and only five were homeruns.

Through 22 games (not even halfway through the season), Grice had already tallied 41 hits with nine multi-base hits and four homeruns, all three stats being team highs.

“Not only does he get on base, but he’s got great power to,” Lyon said. “In that sense, he’s not a traditional lead-off guy. He’s not just a pesky hitter — he can drive the ball and create some things himself. His slugging percentage is outstanding, and we hope that he continues to excel throughout the season.”

Grice has benefited from the strong play of his teammates, as well. Last season he finished with 34 total RBIs, but through 22 games he had already knocked through 25 runs, a team high.

“That reflects some of his power,” Lyon said. “When you drive the ball and get extra-base hits, you tend to drive in more runs. It’s pretty hard to drive in a lot of runs from the lead-off spot, but this year more than any other year we have guys at the bottom of the order who can hit well and get on base a lot.”

It is not just his big bat that helps the team to victory, but his strong outfield play as well. After being moved from right field to center field for this season, Grice said he has had to adopt a bigger leadership role in order to perform effectively.

“It’s a little different,” he said. “I have to cover more ground and take charge more. It makes me be a leader in the outfield and take control of what happens out there.”

Grice will next get the opportunity to lead the team tomorrow afternoon when the Lakers take on the University of Findlay in a doubleheader.

The first game will begin at 1 p.m.

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