As a promising freshman outfielder for the Virginia baseball team, Ben Himes takes lessons from everybody. His coaches are teaching him to develop his swing in the hope he becomes a devastating home-run hitter in years to come. His teammates are teaching him the secrets of coping with a grueling schedule that requires him to play four games a week. The most important lessons Himes has learned, however, are things he has taught himself.
So far, the instruction has paid off. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Himes entered the program with the body of a power hitter. His early training made him one of the Cavs' best this season: Himes native leads the team with seven home runs and a .519 slugging average, but Cav coach Dennis Womack said Himes can do even better.
"As he makes more contact, he should hit more home runs," Womack said. "If he really kept progressing, he could be an All-ACC-type player. He has to develop, but I could see him playing professionally."
Before he can start thinking about the big leagues, however, Himes has to survive the trials of playing a time-consuming varsity sport while adjusting to college life. In a recent stretch, the team (19-25-1) traveled to Atlanta on a Thursday to play a series against Georgia Tech that lasted through Sunday; Then it was off to Blacksburg to face the Hokies in a mid-week game before returning home to face North Carolina in a weekend series. With all the traveling, preparation and practice involved in playing ACC baseball, Himes, a pre-medical student, worries about when he will get a chance to take care of the normal college tasks - like going to class.
"It's been rough," he said. "You miss a lot of class. When you're not playing you're practicing. It's a hard thing to do."
Himes seems to have dealt well with the pressure. He leads Cav freshmen in batting average (.302), RBIs (23) and stolen bases (2) and has provided valuable power when his team has needed it most.
Coming from Westlake High in Austin, Tex., Himes played against some of the nation's best prep players, including Florida Marlins prospect Josh Beckett, who was drafted second overall in the 1999 Major League draft. The top-notch competition Himes faced in high school was not enough to prepare the freshman for what he's encountered in college. Still, Himes has made adjustments to his game and his mentality, making him the Cavs' next great hope.
"Everyone has been a star in high school and then you come and struggle in college," Womack said. "It's a big shot to your ego. It's a challenge. Ben has met that challenge."