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Baseball: Preciado adds offensive edge for Cajuns

Dan McDonald

Alex Preciado didn’t have time to react. He didn’t see the pitch coming.
But he heard the sickening sound.

“The first thing I thought was his season’s over,” said University of Louisiana baseball coach Tony Robichaux. “Your first fear is always for the kid’s safety.”

It was March 15 and Preciado was batting in the top of the ninth inning and the Cajuns trailing McNeese 5-4 in Lake Charles. With one out, Nick Buck’s pitch sailed high and inside and hit Preciado square on the left cheek.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Preciado said. “I never saw it. I just heard it. The next thing, I was on my knees.”

He was in a Lake Charles hospital shortly after.

“When I first got there, they were throwing around things like a broken jaw,” he said. “I was thinking about being wired up, how long I was out, if I’d be able to play again this year.”

“It swelled so fast you didn’t know,” Robichaux said. “The lucky thing is that his eyesight wasn’t damaged.”

As it turned out, his injuries were minor compared to what could have been. He returned to the starting lineup 16 days later and didn’t miss a beat. The Yuma, Ariz., native was hitting .326 when he left, and takes a .329 average into tonight’s opener of the season-finale series against Western Kentucky.

“I’ll never forget this,” Robichaux said. “The day he came back out here we were doing some pitcher vs. hitter drills, and he drove a base hit between short and third on the second pitch he saw.”

That says volumes about the mental discipline needed to stand back in the box against 90-mph fastballs, after taking one off the face.

“I’d been playing since I was four, and that’s the first time I’d been hit in the face,” Preciado said. “I was just playing the odds.”

Preciado has continued to provide offensive punch, just as he did in a limited role last season. But Robichaux said he’s been more impressed with his defensive efforts.

“That’s his biggest turnaround,” Robichaux said. “We knew he had good hitting numbers out of a wood-bat Arizona league, but we didn’t know if he was going to be a liability in the outfield. I’ve been impressed all year about how hard he’s worked at getting better defensively, and now he carries his third in one of the best defensive outfields I’ve ever coached.”

Preciado showed some of that defense Tuesday night, despite UL losing 13-9 to Northwestern State. When the game was 8-8, he robbed NSU’s Miles Durham of a home run with a leaping over-the-wall catch.

“It was one of those plays that you just have to time right,” Preciado said. “A second earlier or a second later … I’d had some I didn’t get, and I just happened to time that one right.”

Originally published May 18, 2006