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Baseball is a game of adjustments. Pitchers adjust to hitters. Hitters adjust to pitchers. It’s back and forth, and it’s constant.
Jake Mangum, famously the all-time hits leader in the Southeastern Conference, clearly has learned to adjust far better than most. Still, there was nothing to properly prepare him for the changes he has faced this summer, his first in professional baseball after a record-breaking career at Mississippi State.
Start with this one: from life in Starkville to life in New York City. And this: From playing on college baseball’s biggest stage in the College World Series before thousands, to playing before hundreds for the Brooklyn Cyclones in the Class A short-season NY-Penn League. And perhaps the hardest adjustment: from metal bats to wooden bats.
“The whole thing has been a really big learning process,” Mangum said late Wednesday night from his motel room in Burlington, Vertmont. “It took me a minute.”
It was more like a month.
First things first: Mangum has adjusted. After a terribly slow start, Mangum has begun to do what he has always done, which is hit the ball where the fielders ain’t. After hitting around .200 for the first month in pro ball, he has hit .335 for the Cyclones’ last 16 games to raise his average to .255.
His season-best 15-game hitting streak ended with an 0-for-4 night Wednesday. And even then he batted in one of his team’s two runs in a 10-2 loss.
Wednesday night’s game followed an all-night bus trip from New York City to Burlington. Said Mangum, “I slept all day.”
The adjustment to wooden bats has been more difficult than the all-night bus rides.
“The easiest way to put it is that the wood bats are less forgiving,” Mangum said. “You have to hit it in the sweet spot.”
“This first year has been a huge learning experience,” he said. “It’s not just me. Everybody goes through it to some extent.”
Sure seems that way. Antoine Duplantis, who hit .324 as an All-American at LSU, is hitting .240 for the Cyclones. He and Mangum have become close friends.
It’s not just a Brooklyn thing. Grae Kessinger, who hit .330 last season for Ole Miss, is hitting .241 in his first minor league season. Matt Wallner, who hit .323 with 23 home runs for Southern Miss this spring, is hitting .277 with five home runs in rookie ball this summer. Thomas Dillard hit .310 for Ole Miss and is hitting .242 in Class A. Dustin Skelton hit .315 for State and is hitting .161 as a pro. Cooper Johnson hit .277 at Ole Miss and is hitting .194 in Class A.
Obviously, it is hard.
“We see some really good pitching almost every night,” Mangum said. “It’s like you’re facing a guy with SEC Friday night stuff every time you go out there.”
Still, there are far worse fates than being paid to play the game you dearly love.
“Honestly, I am having a blast. The season is flying by,” Mangum said.
The Cyclones’ regular season ends Sept. 2. The Brooklyn club is three games out of first place and tied for the NY-Penn League’s one wild-card playoff berth.
When the season does end, playoffs or not, Mangum plans to live in the off-season in Starkville where he says he will continue to “work at baseball every day.”