In a preseason scrimmage, Meade baseball coach Ralph Beachley found out exactly how much Alejandro Sanz-Martin had to learn about the intricacies of the national pastime.

Despite never having played baseball, Sanz-Martin, an exchange student from Madrid, had decided to come out for the Mustangs' varsity.

And early on he was lost.

On first base during the scrimmage, Sanz-Martin tried to put himself in position to steal second by taking a few steps off the bag. When the pitcher threw to first, Sanz-Martin quickly bolted back to the base, barely beating the first baseman's tag.

Thinking he was out of danger, Sanz-Martin got up and stepped off the bag before the first baseman threw the ball back to the pitcher. Sanz-Martin was promptly tagged out, learning another baseball lesson the hard way.

"The first baseman wasn't trying to fake him out. [Sanz-Martin] just walked off the base," Beachley recalled last week. "It was kind of funny."

But while Sanz-Martin initially lacked an understanding of baseball's finer points, his speed and nose for the ball in the field were immediately obvious. When Beachley ran a drill for outfielders during tryouts, he knew Sanz-Martin was a keeper.

"I was hitting balls as far as I could, and he was getting to everything," Beachley said. "I said, 'I don't care if he ever hits, we've got to get him in the lineup.' "

So Beachley decided to keep Sanz-Martin, and the longtime coach is glad he did. Sanz-Martin has been adequate at the plate, has shown flashes of being a standout base stealer and has been nothing short of brilliant in the field. Covering ground with the speed that helped make him an honorable mention All-Extra soccer player in the fall, Sanz-Martin has made a collection of dazzling plays in the field.

"He's probably the best defensive outfielder we've had here in 10 years," Beachley said. "He really goes and gets it."

Sanz-Martin, who recently turned 18, arrived in the United States in September as part of an exchange program. He knew a little about baseball -- "from movies," he said -- and became more interested in it thanks to Kenny Lazochark, the father in the Sanz-Martin's host family here.

"He was a great baseball player, and he kind of introduced me to the game," Sanz-Martin said.

In addition to learning from Lazochark and on the job, Sanz-Martin has watched baseball on television more closely and picked up many a nuance from playing a baseball video game on PlayStation. "I learned a lot from that," Sanz-Martin said.

Everything Sanz-Martin learns, according to coaches, he immediately employs. He does not make the same mistake twice, so you will not see him walking off first base again while the first baseman has the ball.

"Anything we tell him, it goes right to his mind, and then he goes out and does it," Beachley said. "He has no bad habits to break."

Sanz-Martin started the season on the bench but got his first opportunity to start on April 19 against Glen Burnie. He has not come out of the lineup since.

As a starter, Sanz-Martin has batted about .215. But his play in the field has turned heads. He has yet to make a fielding error, and in the Mustangs' 6-4 upset of defending Maryland 3A champion Severna Park on April 30, he made two spectacular game-saving grabs.

"He's learned a lot," said Meade senior pitcher Jose Pizarro. "He's made a lot more contact at the plate, and not enough can be said about what he's done in center field."

"He went from a bench player to the best defensive outfielder in the league," said Meade assistant coach Mike Amaral.

That improvement has bolstered a Mustangs club that has its sights set on its first postseason victory. And it has made Sanz-Martin's experience even more enjoyable than it already was.

"I really like the game," said Sanz-Martin, who will go back to Spain at the end of the month. "I like how the team backs each other up, that you play offense and defense. And I like my position."

Meade's Alejandro Sanz-Martin, right, who arrived in the United States in September as part of an exchange program, has become a defensive whiz in center field. Below, shortstop Alex Pagan makes a throw during a 3-2 loss to Annapolis last Wednesday.