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They Have a Nose for Hitting : At the Plate, Patrick Henry Has Psychological Edge

March 30, 1985|TONY COOPER

SAN DIEGO — Talent, hard work and an aggressive philosophy are the main factors responsible for the lusty hitting of the Patrick Henry High School baseball team. However, Coach Bob Imlay would like to think his cerebral exploits have made a contribution as well.

Imlay calls himself a "nickle-and-dime psychologist." ("I subscribe to Psychology Today, if that makes me an expert," he said.) Recently, he introduced his players to the doctrine of a research psychologist he once read about.

"He (Imlay) gives us psychological reasons as to why you're hitting and why you're not," shortstop Scott Middaugh said. "He tells us when you're hitting, it takes place in the right hemisphere of the brain. Studies show that if you breathe through the left nostril, it increases the intensity of the right hemisphere.

"It may not be true, but it gets you in the right frame of mind to hit the ball. Every once in a while, a hitter will come up to the plate covering his right nostril."

When asked about this psychological theory, most Patriots burst out laughing. Is this left nostril, right hemisphere stuff really valid?

"Of course it's true," Imlay said. "I wouldn't tell my kids anything that wasn't true. It's a way into getting them into proper the state of mind. It's basic psychology."

For whatever reason, one thing is for sure: Patrick Henry can hit.

Imlay, who has been the Patriots' coach since the school opened in 1968, is decidedly offensive-minded. He believes that since a hitter comes to the plate with a bat in his hands, he may as well use it.

On many teams, hitters take a pitch on a 3-0 count. But Patrick Henry hitters have the green light virtually all the time.

"We hate walks," Imlay said. "Hitting is the most fun in the world. I'm a big-inning coach. If you can score a lot of runs, you're never out of the game when you're behind, and you can blow people away."

And what does he think about bunting?

"The squeeze play is an immoral and cowardly act," Imlay said. "We don't like to sacrifice. Hitting is fun. We try to hit and pitch better than the opposition.

"We're not gonna try to score one run early and protect it. We go for the big inning."

The Patriots have had their share of big innings this season. Patrick Henry (5-1) is averaging 11.7 runs a game. It has registered an 18-0 victory over Southwest, a 17-6 triumph over Mount Miguel, wiped out El Cajon Valley, 14-1, and handed San Diego a 15-2 loss. Against Mount Miguel, the Patriots scored 11 runs in the second inning.

Patrick Henry opened the season by scoring only five runs in a win against Castle Park. The only club to control the Patriots is Santana, one of the county's better teams. The Sultans held Patrick Henry to one run.

Leadoff man Norman Whitehead is batting .357 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. Middaugh has a .423 average with two homers and 10 RBIs.

The cleanup hitter, first baseman Mike Thomas, has one homer and 11 RBIs to go with a .333 average. And No. 3 hitter Danny Martinez has been the most dangerous Patriot of all. He has 12 hits in 18 at-bats (.667) and six RBIs.

The bottom of the order doesn't get any easier for opposing pitchers, either. Outfielder Doug Owens bats eighth, but has nine RBIs and is hitting .467 (7 for 15). As a team, the Patriots have a .393 average.

"We just have a lot of good hitters," Martinez said. "We're confident. We can score on anybody."

Said Thomas: "Everyone on the team is hitting the hell out of the ball. If you throw Norman a fastball, it's gone. Scott is a good contact hitter and can put the ball anywhere. And Martinez is tearing the place apart. He has a good inside-out swing (enabling him to hit to the opposite field) and can pull the ball.

"They can't pitch around any of our guys. The one through nine guys can hit 'em out of the yard. If it's not the top of the order that's hitting, it's the middle, or it's the bottom."

"Our pitchers love us," said Middaugh, a pitcher himself on occasion. "They can give up 10 runs and win the game."

The Patriots certainly work on hitting enough. They practice anywhere from 1 1/2 to two hours a day, and some of the players head for the local batting cages afterward to get in extra licks. Many of the Patriots have tees at home, affording them the opportunity to keep swinging during bad weather or when they don't feel like leaving the house.

About the only disadvantage the Patriots have is their field. Because the field is of the multi-purpose variety, most of the outfield isn't surrounded by fences. Only right field (320 feet) and right-center (370) are fenced.

That enables opposing outfielders to play as far back as they want. About the only way to get a home run to left or left-center is to hit the ball to Navajo Road.

"Last year was ridiculous," Thomas said. "One guy made out five times hitting the ball 400 feet."

Said Middaugh: "Our guys get mad. You hit it 500 feet and get a triple. You gotta hit it 600 feet to get a home run."

As a result, most Patriot home runs come on the road, where many of the fields are fenced. But according to Imlay, playing at the wide-open spaces of San Carlos has its advantages.

"It encourages all your right-handed hitters to hit line drives," he said. "They (fielders) can't cover the whole field. If they play too far back, all the dinkers will drop in.

"I don't consider it to be a big drawback, but I know the kids would prefer to shoot at fences, rather than pasture."

Home or away, the Patriots have been producing plenty of runs this season. They're hoping their offense can carry them to a 3-A championship. Last season, Patrick Henry finished third in the tough City Eastern League with a 6-4 record (18-6 overall). The league features Mira Mesa, Point Loma and Madison.

"We just have to keep it up," Imlay said. "We have the type of team that can win a championship. We need that constant pressure throughout the lineup."

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