Bill Hass on the ACC: Tar Heels' Fronk Sends Message as Atypical Leadoff Man
May 22, 2007
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Reid Fronk is the first to admit that you won't find his picture when you look up the phrase "leadoff hitter."
He's not particularly fast. Sometimes he doesn't take a lot of pitches. He doesn't have the highest batting average in North Carolina's lineup.
All he seems to do is help his team win.
"I'm not the speediest guy out there, so I'm not a prototypical leadoff hitter," Fronk said. "But I can get on base and help the team get off to a good start."
Fronk has played in all the Tar Heels' 56 games, of which they have won 45. They are the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament, and will play Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. Tuesday in their opening game in Jacksonville, Fla.
In the new round-robin format, North Carolina is in the bracket with No. 3 seed Virginia, No. 5 Miami and No. 7 Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels will play each of them once and the team with the best record will play a championship game Sunday against the winner of the bracket with No. 1 Florida State, No. 4 Clemson, No. 6 N.C. State and No. 8 Wake Forest.
After Fronk had a solid sophomore season during North Carolina's run to the NCAA championship game in 2006, coach Mike Fox asked him to make two big adjustments. One was shifting from third base to left field, the other was moving from being the No. 2 hitter to the leadoff man.
Fronk has responded with a stellar year, hitting .325 with 29 extra-base hits, 45 RBIs and 60 runs. In addition to his 69 hits, he has gotten on base 50 other times - 34 by walk, 16 being hit by a pitch. His on-base percentage is .444. Those stats more than compensate for his one stolen base (in five attempts).
Another atypical statistic about Fronk is that he leads the Tar Heels with 11 home runs. He hit three in last weekend's doubleheader at Maryland, including a homer to start the second game.
"I think I've done that twice this year," he said of his leadoff shot. "I don't ever go up there trying for a home run because that will cost you. You'll try to do too much and end up rolling out to first base. I keep the same approach: hit the ball hard up the middle and gap to gap.
"Some guys like to take a lot of pitches at the top of the order. Against a quality pitcher, I might try to work the count and let my teammates see as many pitches as possible. Truthfully, I like to hit the first pitch. A lot of times it's right down the middle, so I'll swing at it and maybe get a double or something to get us started. A leadoff hit sends a message that you're here to play from the get-go."
Fronk said it didn't take long to become used to leading off, which he did in a handful of games last season. It was tougher moving from third base to the outfield.
"It's not as easy as people think to stick a guy in the outfield," he said. "In the off-season I had a buddy hit a lot of fly balls, particularly ones over my head. In fall practice I took a lot of extra balls.
"The toughest play is the line drive right at you. You're not sure which way to turn, but you have to made a decision quickly and adjust to the ball accordingly. It took me through the spring and preseason to make it work in the outfield. Now I've played 56 games there and I feel comfortable."
So comfortable that he has only been charged with one error this season.
North Carolina finds itself in an unusual spot for the ACC tournament. The Tar Heels know they will receive an NCAA invitation and likely will be a national seed with the possibility of a lot of home games. Yet they're not resting on their laurels.
"The tournament is really important," Fronk said. "There are a lot of bragging rights at stake, and you might get a shot at playing someone who ripped you during the season. It's a challenge, and I like our chances."
In the bigger picture, the Tar Heels are motivated by returning to the College World Series in Omaha, where they lost to Oregon State in heartbreaking fashion..
"It was definitely disappointing not to come home with the title," Fronk said. "But that's baseball and that's life. Stuff doesn't always go your way. And there's a lot to be said for how far we went.
"It definitely drives the guys who were there last year. We haven't focused on it, but it has been in the back of our minds. For most players, it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance. We want to make it more than that."
And, with their non-prototype leadoff man sending the message, the Tar Heels just might be able to get there.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for TheACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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