Ferndale coach Donny Hennigs two years ago could tell Matt James was a budding star without even watching him hit.
The sound emitted from the collision of James’ bat punishing a baseball told the story.
“It sounds different when it comes off his bat,” Hennigs said. “You can be somewhere else and hear it.”
Watching him swing stands out, too. And plenty of players and coaches this year have gotten a look at how potent of a hitter James has become.
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James, a junior catcher, first gained recognition as a sophomore DH on Ferndale’s state team, but he’s really taken off this spring batting out of the team’s No. 3 spot.
He is just a confident hitter. His swing is dialed in, and when it’s going good, it’s tough to get him out.
Ferndale coach Donny Hennigs on junior catcher Matt James
James through 10 games is hitting for a .552 average with 21 RBI, three home runs and has scored nine runs in helping the Golden Eagles (8-2, 4-0 NWC) to a strong start.
He credits his rise to a character trait instilled in him at a young age. It’s something both Hennigs and club coach Gary Hatch raved about.
“I’ve always known that I was a good hitter because I worked hard, and that is what gets you places,” James said, when asked the first time he recognized his hitting skill. “The funny thing is if I have a 1 for 3 game with a couple pop ups, I’ll go home and hit for 20 minutes. My dad instilled that (hard work) when I was young. You can’t teach work ethic. It’s one of those things you either have or don’t.”
That repetition, that commitment to crafting the perfect swing is paying dividends now.
In addition to playing summer and fall baseball, James is a regular at Inside Pitch. When he’s not honing his game there, he’s working on increasing strength or hitting at home with a pitching machine that shoots out golf-ball sized Wiffle balls into netting.
Hatch, who’s knows area baseball between his time at Sehome and now as an instructor at Inside Pitch, said James is next in line to become the county’s top hitter after Division-I bound players Jordan Wittenberg (Lynden), who is playing at Seattle University next year, and Austin Shenton (Bellingham), who’s heading to the University of Washington.
“He is a really tough guy to get out,” said Hatch, who coached James last fall. “He has a good approach, and doesn’t seem to swing at bad balls. He sees the ball really well and lets it travel. He gets the barrel out in front. It’s hard to teach kids that. It’s fun watch kids who have a feel for the most difficult thing in all of sports, and that’s to put that bat on that round ball.”
James, who’s never satisfied, has found ways to improve his game. He worked just as hard as he did the previous offseason, he said, taking 20,000 swings, but he’s gone away from being a predominant pull-hitter. He’s showed an ability to hit with power to all areas of the field.
Maybe where he’s focused the most, though, is defensively, where he’s taken over for four-year starter Brady Shearer. James played a multitude of positions growing up, but settled into catching as a freshman.
“He was a lot of fun to work with, because we could do drills together everyday in practice,” James said of working with Shearer. “I learned a lot of things from him, being a higher-level catcher. He showed toughness, and that is one of the things I took away from him.”
The Golden Eagles return to play against Sedro-Woolley on Tuesday, April 12, and surely James’ play will be essential in helping Ferndale make another postseason run.
“He is just a confident hitter,” Hennigs said. “His swing is dialed in, and when it’s going good, it’s tough to get him out.”