Goodwin takes new stance

Published 12:18 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It can be hard to change what works. For the vast majority of his young career, what Devin Goodwin did worked. He had found success at every level doing what was comfortable.

At Demopolis HIgh School, he helped the Tigers win a 2005 baseball state championship. At Delta State, the senior has experienced considerable success over his first three seasons, including a breakout junior campaign that saw him hit a team-high 15 home runs and earn All-GSC First Team honors while leading the Statesmen to the Gulf South Conference title. Then Goodwin continued to do what he has always done when he found success in summer league ball with the Rochester (Mn.) Honkers.

Then came the start of his senior season. Suddenly, what Goodwin was doing wasn’t working anymore.

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“There was a lot of frustration,” Goodwin says. “I’ve always been kind of a slow starter, but it was different this year. I had a really good summer where I hit the ball well in a really good league. And, all of a sudden, I felt like I had no clue at the plate. I felt like I couldn’t get on time with anything.”

Bewildered, the Delta State leadoff man continued to plug away, doing what he’d always done. That was, until a weekend series with Pace University.

“We were taking batting practice one day,” Goodwin tells of the events leading up to the March 6-8 rendezvous with Pace. “I’ve always been a crouch hitter. Coach noticed that my head was moving planes from low to high in the middle of my swing.”

The realization pointed to the root of Goodwin’s problem. For the entirety of his baseball life, Goodwin’s success had been predicated on a crouched stance that saw him hit the ball off his front foot. Suddenly, the stance no longer worked for him. With each swing, his head moved, impeding his vision and, ultimately, his timing.

“It was the day before we played Pace,” Goodwin says. “I went to the cage that day and I made the decision to change everything.”

During that session, Goodwin stood tall at the plate, abandoning the crouched stance with which he had long been comfortable. He also changed his balance, switching to his back foot rather than his front.

“It wasn’t really hard as far as making contact,” Goodwin explains. “but it kind of plays with your confidence a little bit because it’s not your comfort zone. I was kind of apprehensive at first. But baseball is kind of like this, once you get that first hit, you just sort of run with it.”

During the series against Pace, Goodwin chose to run with it. The shortstop put together a 2-for-3 game with three runs scored in the series opener.

“I can remember feeling comfortable right away in that first at-bat against Pace,” Goodwin says. “So, obviously, it was the right decision.”

But it was game two of the three-game tilt in which Goodwin really returned to form. In that contest, he went 3-for-4 with three home runs and six RBIs.

“He started a little slow coming off a great junior year,” Delta State head coach Mike Kinnison says of Goodwin. “But he’s starting to do what we thought he would do.”

Goodwin’s slow start saw him go 17-for-63 during his first 16 games. While hitting just over .270, he managed to score 13 runs and had only six RBIs.

Since making the alteration to his stance, Goodwin is 15-for-23 in eight games. Hitting at a .650 clip, he has scored 22 runs and amassed 19 RBIs over that stretch.

“I’ve never felt better at the plate,” Goodwin says of his recent success. “I’m seeing the ball well. My eyes aren’t moving too much. I’ve never been more comfortable than I am now. Hopefully it will stay that way.”

He enters today’s game against West Alabama as Delta State’s leader in batting average (.391), slugging percentage (.828), on base percentage (.530), runs scored (38), hits (34), home runs (9), total bases (72), walks (21), stolen bases (7) and plate appearances (115). Aside from leading the Statesmen in 10 different offensive categories, Goodwin is fourth on the team in RBIs (25), tied for second in double (7) and tied for first in triples (2).

“He takes every at-bat seriously and doesn’t give outs away,” Kinnison says of his offensive leader. “He plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. It’s one of the best compliments I can give him.”

Goodwin will soon be forced to turn his attention entirely to his next big change; life after college.

“I made the decision a long time ago that, no matter what, I’m going to play as long as I can,” Goodwin says. “I feel like I can play at the next level. I’m just hoping that somebody gives me a shot.”

“I certainly have encountered scouts who are very interested in him and are watching him very close,” Kinnison says of Goodwin. “I think he’s being watched very closely right now and, if he continues to do what he’s doing, I think some positive things can happen for him.”

Goodwin doesn’t know just yet whether he will be blessed with the opportunity to play in minor leagues. However, he does know that, barring injury, his career will continue.

“I’ve already been informed that I have a place to play next year independently. So, if nothing works out, at least I have the comfort of knowing I’m not done playing,” Goodwin says. “The money isn’t always good, but it’s not always about the money.”

For now, thoughts of professional baseball are relegated to the back of Goodwin’s mind. His focus in the interim is squarely upon capturing a national title.

“As a team, the goal is obviously the College World Series. I feel like we’re good enough to get there and win it,” Goodwin says. “Obviously, we started slow. There were a lot of reasons for that, but talent wasn’t one of them.”

In that regard, Goodwin’s personal struggles were a microcosm of the Delta State season. The Statesmen got off to a 7-9 start. Since Goodwin launched his personal tear on March 6 against Pace, Delta State is 9-0.

“I want to stay on the bases for the guys behind me. Obviously I want to put up some decent numbers,” Goodwin says. “but I feel like, if you work hard every at-bat, numbers take care of themselves.”