Natural blonde on his own

Among a dugout full of shaved heads and crew cuts, the long, blonde hair that curls out from under his cap makes this left fielder stand out.

Teammates say off the field he is a quiet guy, but the numbers Bryan Hierlmeier is putting up at the plate this season speak loudly about how far the Plant High School graduate has come as a ballplayer.

And he is extremely focused on his hitting. He did an interview with The Oracle wearing batting gloves.

The Bulls boast Major League prospects Devin Ivany, Myron Leslie and Jeff Baisley, but Hierlmeier has been able to make a name for himself this year after struggling in 2003, when he hit only .282.

His eight home runs through two-thirds of this season are double what he hit last year. He has already eclipsed his 2003 stats with three triples, and he only needs six RBIs to equal his last season’s total.

Hierlmeier enters a three-game series at Memphis this weekend having played in all 39 games, with 38 starts in right field.

Tuesday, Hierlmeier had a career day at UCF, finishing the game just a triple short of hitting for the cycle. He blasted a two-run home run in the first inning against UCF followed by a double, two singles, a walk and three runs scored. He leads the team with three triples and is second with 81 total bases and eight home runs, 16 walks and a .421 on-base percentage.

“What a year he is having,” coach Eddie Cardieri said. “I mean, mechanically he is so solid that he gives himself a chance to hit every at-bat.”

Hitting coach Bryan Peters said, “He has got the most natural ability on the team. He is probably our only legitimate five-tool player, meaning he can run, throw field, hit and hit for power.”

But he wasn’t always one of the top hitters on the team.

Hierlmeier started the season batting ninth in the lineup. As the season progressed and his hitting improved, he was moved up to second in the order so that he could get more at-bats. Peters said they knew he could hit. The only reason he was hitting ninth was because he had speed, which Peters and Cardieri like in a player batting ninth.

“I’m just trying to block everything out of my head and just concentrate on hitting. I think that last year I was trying to do too many things mechanic-wise with my swing during the season. Now I am just concentrating on hitting the ball,” Hierlmeier said.

As the season progressed and Hierlmeier got hot, the coaches had to shake up the lineup.

“He’s probably not a prototypical two-hole hitter because two-hole hitters are the type that are supposed to be able to handle the bat and bunt,” Peters said. “But he’s so talented and he’s such a weapon he can do all those things and hit home runs, so we wanted to get him more at-bats. The earlier in the lineup you hit, the more at-bats you get”

Hierlmeier said one minor change he made has helped improve his swing from last season. While he is warming up in the cage he swings a wooden bat, instead of the aluminum bat the NCAA allows. The wood bat forces him to swing with his hands where he used to use his arms, which promotes an overall better swing, he said.

Another reason Hierlmeier is producing more this season than in 2003 is that he isn’t being coached as much, Peters said.

“The truth of the matter is that he has been an untapped, explosive offensive weapon, and he hasn’t really played up to his potential for several reasons,” he said. “I take responsibility for over-coaching him and not letting him go with his natural ability. The only thing that we’ve changed is that we’ve let him be his own hitter.”