George Washington's Kevin Fitzgerald swept his bat forward, eyes leading his head down on the approaching fast ball. It was a classic swing, fundamentally precise.
But the result was uncharacteristic.
He grounded out.
Through 40 games this season, Fitzgerald, a senior second baseman, has hit 13 home runs, driven in 54 runs and is batting .430. The school home run record had been eight.
Early in the season against Florida Southern, a team ranked No. 1 in Division II, he had two homers and six RBI in an 18-10 loss. Not bad, he said, considering Florida Southern "has about 50 players, plays in an unbelievable park and everybody throws fast."
After starting 6-13-1 under new Coach John Castleberry, the Colonials are 18-20-2. The Colonials won't make the Atlantic 10 playoffs unless West Virginia loses four of its last five games.
In the past, Fitzerald had hit around .300 and his power was sporadic. He hit .331 his freshman year, but in the following fall season, injured his left knee sliding into second base. He was redshirted in the spring.
He reinjured the same knee in the fall of 1983 and had his second operation in December. At that point, he was wondering if he was finished as a baseball player.
"I tried to come back last spring," said Fitzgerald, who hit .290 while platooning. "My knee wasn't 100 percent and I couldn't do a lot of things. I didn't steal a lot of bases and didn't hit with a lot of power (two homers and 17 RBI).
"There was a psychological aspect also. Every time I was at the plate, I didn't feel strong. I was afraid of turning on a pitch and something else would happen -- especially turning on an inside pitch."
But Fitzgerald worked vigorously last summer to rehabilitate his knee. Then he met Castleberry and new assistant coach Paul Keyes, who helped develop his swing.
"In high school, I played three sports," said Fitzgerald, who attended Robinson in Fairfax. "I was always athletically inclined. I did really well in all three. But I was like raw talent. I was juggling three sports so I was never really able to refine anything."
Fitzerald credits both coaches with teaching him the "flat stroke," a batting technique he said is analogous to chopping wood. Fitzgerald describes it as "throwing the head of the bat out, like you see the pros with the quickness of the hands." Instead of the axiom of turning the wrists over, you wait until the follow-through.
"This year I've been able to adjust to any pitch," he said. "I just try to look for something I can drive. In the past, I was more of a curve-ball hitter. Consequently, when I was hitting the ball well, I was keeping my hands back. (Castleberry) said, 'You hit the curve ball real well, that's what you should do all the time. You don't have to be overly aggressive on the fast ball.' "
Castleberry is impressed with Fitzgerald's adaption. "I was really surprised by his power," he said. "He has quick and strong hands. That makes him a good hitter because he can wait."
With help from Castleberry, Fitzgerald, along with teammate Greg Ritchie, was invited to play this summer in the Kansas Jayhawk League, which attracts some of the best college players in the country. Fitzgerald is hoping his play will better his chances of getting drafted by a major league team.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald, who has been accepted into GW's graduate School of Public International Affairs, feels he has his future covered if he doesn't get drafted.
"One of the reasons I wanted to get accepted into grad school was in case everything does fall through," he said. "I can get my masters work and go on and work with some Latin American bank. I just want to keep my options open."