To the college diamonds, where the University of Evansville is coming down the home stretch of the regular season, looking to improve their lot in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. And a freshly-shorn slugger is leading the way.
"It's been a roller coaster for sure," said University of Evansville junior first baseman Tanner Craig.
While Tanner Craig is referring to the Evansville baseball team's season, he could easily be referring to his career with the Aces. The slugger from Scottsburg, Indiana with the go-for-broke swing has been a starter since walking on campus back in 2018. This past weekend, that swing struck for three home runs, six RBI's and a .600 batting average, earning Craig the third Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week honor of his career.
"That was fun to play that weekend, for sure," said Craig. "I felt like I was going to get a hit every time at the plate. I was just trying to hit the ball hard in every at-bat. Found holes and got lucky on the last one."
"I'd love to see the exit velocity on some of the balls off his bat," said University of Evansville baseball head coach Wes Carroll. He's just got some raw juice in his bat and just such a talented hitter when it comes to being a staple in our line-up for many years now. He's got a lot of at-bats underneath his belt."
Perhaps part of Craig's success comes from a "Samson and Delilah" story in reverse, as his numbers have jumped up since a trip to the barber shop.
"Yeah, I'm sure it played some role in it," said Craig. "Just mixing it up, for sure."
"Baseball players are very superstitious and you ride different hitting streaks," said Carroll. "Whatever you've got to do to get some confidence and get your mind right when you go out there to compete."
Tanner was riding a major streak to start the 2020 season, one that placed him as the top home run hitter in the nation. Then the ultimate streak stopper, Coronavirus, hit. With the season cancelled, the hot-hitting junior was forced to look inward.
"I took the summer and tried to find fun in the game again," said Craig. "It was taken away from us pretty early on in the season. We didn't know what was going to happen. Just trying to have fun and get on the field again was the main focus."
And those hard-learned lessons served him well, recovering from a mid-season slump to push his batting average above .300, and now the Aces are hoping he'll stay hot, with the MVC Tournament on the horizon.
"I'm looking for him to really provide some offensive production," said Carroll. "That's what this offensive needs down the stretch here. We're going to need our offense to really step up. Especially when you go deep into a conference tournament where you're going to have to put up big numbers."
"I just want to keep competing like I did this past weekend," said Craig, "and just keep trying to help the team win any way I can."