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Baseball: Beyond his years – freshman shortstop Trahan has hugh impact on Cajuns’ success

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 3, 2013

He’s been practically unflappable at a position where shaky play can sink a team.

He actually has committed 11 errors in 207 chances, but doesn’t dwell on each miscue when he does make one.

And he’s a true freshman, which is what really blows the mind of many with the UL Ragin’ Cajuns as they assess just how crucial shortstop Blake Trahan’s contributions have been 46 games into UL’s 31-15 season.

“He’s one of the smallest guys on the team, but he’s comes up huge for us,” junior relief pitcher Matt Hicks said. “I mean, it’s a privilege for any of us to play with him.”

“He’s absolutely unbelievable,” sophomore outfielder Dylan Butler added. “The things he can do at that position are unbelievable, and I’m thankful we have him there.”

What Cajun coaches recruiting Trahan at Kinder High saw was a teenager, now listed generously at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, doing things with his hands and feet far beyond his years.

Yet even UL head coach Tony Robichaux found it difficult to fathom Trahan would be capable of so coolly and calmly doing what he has since even before the 2013 season got under way in mid-February.

“He just slows the game down — not only at shortstop, but he slows it down in the box,” said Robichaux, whose club plays host this weekend to Arkansas State in a three-game Sun Belt Conference series that gets under way tonight. “The game never gets too fast for him. It’s an amazing freshman.”

The root of Trahan’s ahead-of-schedule success, as Robichaux sees it, is two-fold.

It partly stems from athleticism so solid he never panics.

“Because there’s nothing for him to cover up,” Robichaux said. “He doesn’t have a big, big weakness that he has to cover up.”

Robichaux said the other key is that “he’s way ahead of the curve in playing with a clear mind” and he “doesn’t have a lot of clutter.”

“No matter what happens — he can have a bad at-bat, make a throwing error — he never lets his clock get out of whack,” Robicheaux said. “That is very hard to do — and especially not only as a freshman, but also at shortstop, which is one of the toughest positions to play.

“You never believe you’re gonna get that out of a freshman. Never. Not even a good freshman. … You think that’s what’s gonna have to take time.”

Coming out of Kinder, Trahan was confident.

It didn’t matter to him that he was a true freshman. A job was open, the kid knew he was a candidate to fill it, and he saw no reason why he shouldn’t pursue the position straight out of the chute.

“I was prepared,” Trahan said. “I thought I was ready.

“I had to get a lot better, but I wanted to be the starting shortstop — and it’s worked out well for the team.”

Has it ever.

Beyond the steadiness he has brought to UL’s infield, Trahan ranks third among Cajun batters with 50 hits — only outfielders Seth Harrison (51) and Dex Kjerstad (65) have more — and fourth in batting average at .333.

That average has been above .300 since Feb. 20, and he’s climbed from the bottom of the UL batting order early in the season to sixth now.

It’s taken some toil, though.

“In high school I could get away with a few things,” Trahan said. “Now I’ve got to be on top of my game every at-bat.

“I’ve gotten a lot of better since I came here,” he added. “They worked with me during the fall, just trying to slow the game down, getting adjusted to the good pitching.”

Trahan is perfect in stolen bases at 10-of-10, and he’s even scored from second base as the second runner on a surprise suicide squeeze bunt.

Though not tagged as a power hitter, he also has four home runs this season — including a three-run shot in UL’s 6-4 non-conference loss at Houston on Tuesday night that extended his current hitting streak to seven straight games.

The homer increased Trahan’s RBI total this season to 28, making him one of six UL hitters with at least that many.

The funny thing, though, is that last fall, when he was preparing for his first college season, and the Cajuns still weren’t positive who their shortstop would be, his hitting may have been the only thing holding Trahan back from being penciled in right away.

“We were scared he wasn’t going to be there with the bat,” Butler said. “(But) we knew his fielding was unbelievable from the first day, and that if he could hit he was gonna be there.

“He’s one of the most-confident guys I’ve ever seen,” Butler added. “He knows his abilities. He makes an error, he gets right back to it.”

Looking only forward, never behind, is a matter of necessity when things happen in the college game exponentially faster than they do in high school.

“I just have to block out the externals,” Trahan said.

Fans in the stands.

Opponents, and whatever they may say or do.

The pressure of a particular situation.

Trahan knows he can’t allow any of the aforementioned to get into his head, so he thinks only about trying to block it all out, staying relaxed and seeing regular speed unfold in slow motion.

The key, he said, is “just forgetting about that last play, or last at-bat, and getting to the next one and trying to help the team.”

Letting everything come to him, in other words.

Understanding the game and its many nuances, as Trahan seemingly does despite his limited experience, allows the young Cajun to do just that.

“He knows baseball. He knows how to play,” teammate Hicks said. “He plays the game right. His work ethic is second to none out here.

“I’m not a firm believer in ‘just because you’re a freshman, you have to back down,’ or anything like that,” Hicks added. “If you can go out and play the game, you play the game — and he’s proven time and time again this year that he can play the game with any of us.”

Not every true freshman arrives with such savvy.

UL associate head coach Anthony Babineaux has seen a few during his nearly 20 years on the Cajun staff.

But being a freshman, and especially one acclimating so quickly, narrows the field.

“Blake is just one of those kids that nothing is real fast for him,” Babineaux said. “From day one, he wasn’t nervous at all. He wasn’t intimidated about the position that he played, he wasn’t intimidated with the coaching staff, he wasn’t intimidated with any of the other players on the team.

“And when I say ‘wasn’t intimidated’ — he doesn’t take it to a level of being cocky, and knowing that ‘I’m the best.’ I mean that he just knows he’s good. He’s confident in his abilities. He trusts his abilities. And he just goes out there and lets those abilities come out and play for him.

“We’ve had very few of those guys, at least that I can remember in my time here, that have been able to do what he has done. Especially at a premier position, at shortstop,” Babineaux said.

“But he’s been able to do it at all ends — defensively, he’s got so many clutch hits for us, he’s a great base-runner.”

What Trahan has delivered indeed has been critical in UL’s pivot from a team that went 23-30 and did not qualify for the Sun Belt Tournament in 2012 to one contending for an NCAA Regional bid in 2013.

“I just really can’t say enough about what he’s meant to our team in holding down that position,” Babineaux said.

“You know, unlike a lot of years, this year’s team, it seems like there’s fewer and fewer spots and positions on the field that we have to think about each day as far as who’s name is going to be at that position.

“The great thing about Blake,” he added, “is we never have to worry about that.”

But don’t for a second think it all happens without a blink by Trahan, who signed with the Cajuns during the fall prior to his senior season at Kinder.

Even though he’s been playing shortstop since he was about 8 years ago — it took only a season or so in the outfield to figure out his true position would be baseball’s busiest — none of it comes nearly as naturally as one might suspect.

“I’m putting in a lot of work. We work hard as a team, and everybody’s there behind me,” Trahan said. “It’s not as easy as, I guess, it looks.”