People see Hunter Gibson and tell him to hit home runs. Gibson listened and swung away.
Of course. It is a great feeling to blast the baseball over the fence and jog around the bases to collect high fives at home plate.
“Every player wants to go up there and hit the hardest ball, hit the nuke,” Gibson said. “I’m a bigger guy – 6-foot-3, 230 pounds – and a lot of people look at me and they want me to be hitting balls out.”
At Wichita State, that approach to hitting did not work in Gibson’s first two seasons. He hit six home runs in 87 games. He considered not returning to Wichita State for the 2020 season. Then he talked with new coach Eric Wedge, hired in late May 2019.
Gibson, from Oologah, Oklahoma, liked the message from the new coaches. In fall practices, Wedge started remaking Gibson’s strategy at the plate.
“He has a history and he really knows what he’s doing,” Gibson said. “I need to hit line drives in the gaps for doubles. That was the main change in my approach – not to go up there thinking ‘I’m going to hit a home run’. Do my job. Hit a line drive. Home runs come when they come.”
Teammates could tell that Gibson jumped on board.
B4 | THAT BALL WAS CRUSHED!
— Wichita State Baseball (@GoShockersBSB) March 7, 2020
“He definitely had the best approach on the team,” catcher Ross Cadena said. “He did everything he could have done at the plate.”
As a sophomore, Gibson hit .238 and his 53 strikeouts ranked second on the team. He chased too many bad pitches and, when he didn’t strike out, popped up too often.
“I needed something to change,” he said. “I needed someone to step in and help me out.”
As junior, Gibson listened to Wedge’s words and invested in the hitting approach. Hit to the opposite field. Line drives. Hard ground balls. Try to hit the top half of the baseball to produce backspin.
“You want to be free and easy, utilize the hands, create as much as bat speed as possible,” Wedge said. “I don’t care where they hit it. I do know you have to be in a position to cover home plate. If you’re in position to cover home plate, you’re going to ultimately hit the ball the other way.”
Wedge also told Gibson that he is not looking for designated hitters and Gibson worked to improve his play in right field.
“The buy-in is everything,” Wedge said.
The Shockers went 13-2 before COVID-19 ended their season in early March. Gibson started all 15 games and hit .315 with a .491 slugging percentage and four doubles. He hit his two home runs in Wichita State’s final two games and ended on a nine-game hitting streak.
Gibson said he balanced out his stance a bit, He didn’t make major changes to his swing. The change is in his strategy at the plate, where he wants to look for something to hit early in the count and focus on line drives.
“Home runs are accidents,” he said. “I want to do my job. Hit line drives.”
The success means baseball is fun again for Gibson. Cadena calls him one of the team’s vocal leaders, a Shocker who possesses a loud voice and uses it in the best way.
Gibson and Cadena are among the more than 20 Shockers getting back to baseball this week, many in the Sunflower Collegiate League with nine teams in and around Wichita. The league plays a doubleheader at 5 p.m. each Tuesday at Eck Stadium to showcase the league.
“He definitely pushes everybody,” Cadena said. “He’s always talking, trying to give everybody the confidence they need to succeed in the game and practices. He’s playing like a kid in little league, having fun, getting after it.”
Due to ongoing concerns with the COVID-19 virus, the American Athletic Conference has suspended all sporting events until further notice.