ORONO – Chad White’s University of Maine baseball career did not get off to an encouraging start. He went 2-for-14 as the Black Bears went 1-5 in their season-opening series against Hawaii-Hilo.
However, since then, the freshman left fielder from Brewer has hit .369 to raise his average to .344. He has nine doubles, a triple, a homer, and 24 runs batted in. He has scored 23 times.
“He has played way beyond the expectations I had for him in his freshman year,” said Maine Coach John Winkin. “I expected him to contribute and to come along but not to hit at the pace he’s hitting at. I didn’t expect him to be quite as aggressive as he has been.”
White said he was “really nervous” in the series at Hilo and was too passive at the plate and in the field.
“Coach Winkin told me I had been too tentative and (center fielder) Mark Sweeney told me I had to be more aggressive everywhere,” said White. “I knew if I didn’t get more aggressive, I’d be out of the lineup pretty soon. So when we played the University of Hawaii, I started attacking the ball.”
White erupted for a 6-for-13 (.462) three-game series against the Rainbows with a pair of doubles and he has been a steady contributor ever since.
“I’ve been extremely surprised,” said White. “When I knew I was going to play, I hoped to hit around .300. But I didn’t think I’d be doing as well as I am now. Now I can set my goals a little higher.”
White has been hitting in the ninth spot in the order, which is a lot different than hitting third or fourth as he did at Brewer High School and for Brewer’s American Legion team.
“I love it there,” said White, who is like a second leadoff hitter in that spot. “All I’ve seen is fastballs. In high school, I was mainly a fastball hitter.”
“Because you’re hitting ninth, the pitchers figure they can just blow the fastball by you,” added White.
White has outstanding speed and displayed that speed in Monday’s 9-6 victory over Central Connecticut State by scoring from second on a 6-4 fielder’s choice and racing from first to third on a single to left by Brian Seguin.
To try to capitalize on White’s speed, the Maine coaching staff has altered his swing.
“I used to swing up and I’d pop the ball up quite a bit,” said White. “Coach (Mike) Coutts told me to swing down a little bit and level off my swing because, with my speed, I might be able to beat out ground balls.”
Sweeney and the coaches have also been working with him on bunting for base hits. White placed a perfect bunt down the first base line against Central Connecticut Monday and beat it out easily.
“I had never bunted at all (until I came to Maine),” said White. “But I’ve worked on it a lot. Mark (Sweeney) told me bunting has helped him a lot and it could do the same for me. Mark has really helped me a lot.”
White was the Penobscot Valley Conference A Division’s Most Valuable Player a year ago when he hit .564 with 20 runs batted in for Brewer High’s Witches. White continued his hitting prowess for the state champion Brewer American Legion team, hitting .514 with 31 RBIs en route to All-Zone I First Team honors. White was an All-Tourney choice at the state AL tournament, hitting .364 with two homers and five RBIs.
In addition, White went 5-1 as a pitcher for the Legion team with his only loss coming in the Northeast Regional, a heart-breaking 3-2 setback to Hamden, Conn. He hurled a complete-game nine-hitter.
Winkin said White’s performance in the Northeast Regional convinced him White “could play for us.”
Jay Kemble, the first-year Maine assistant coach who was the head coach of Brewer’s Legion team, said White has “made himself into a good hitter.”
“He’s a good kid who works hard,” said Kemble. “He’s always had quick hands, but he always tried to pull the ball to left field (in high school and Legion ball). Pitchers weren’t quick enough to get the ball by him.”
“But he has become a smarter hitter. He has been going with the pitch,” said Kemble.
“Chad has been concentrating on the ball better,” said Winkin.
“I began hitting the ball to the opposite field in Hawaii,” said White. “I’ve got to learn to place the ball better and hit to all fields.”