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A diamond in a rougher world

Except for some bruises and aches, FSU's Buster Posey has made a smooth transition from shortstop to catcher.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published May 8, 2007


For some, the idea of moving Florida State star Buster Posey from shortstop to catcher seemed straight out of leftfield.

That's how it struck coach Mike Martin, anyway.

Posey had started all 65 games at short and was named a freshman All-American last season. Oh yeah. He had never played behind the plate.

"I just didn't know what they were talking about, " Martin said of the notion his assistants, Jamey Shouppe and Mike Martin Jr., floated before practice began in the fall.

But Martin Jr., himself a prep shortstop who found a better fit as a catcher at junior college and FSU, continued to pitch away. He knew the Seminoles had struggled a bit defensively at catcher last season and Posey's strong arm, quick hands and savvy might be the answer.

"From the first day I saw him, I said, 'I bet you if we don't do it, professional people are going to do it, ' " Martin Jr. said.

"It was a tough sell to the boss."

Surprisingly, not to Posey, 20.

He knew the Seminoles could use Mark Wallberg, a talented shortstop transferring in from Illinois-Chicago, for both his glove and bat. And if he could improve the team's defense as its catcher, well ...

"Ultimately, if you're a competitor, it's all about winning, " he said. "I was willing to give it a shot."

"I'll never forget walking down there. He was ready to catch the ball from the machine, and the first pitch, the way he caught it, I said, "You've got to be kidding me, ' " the elder Martin said. "Ten pitches later, I said, "This is a done deal.' "

And it has turned into the kind of win-win that can transform a season. The Seminoles 42-7, 20-4 ACC, who next play Friday against Clemson, are ranked No. 2 in the Baseball America poll and look capable of reaching the College World Series.

Not only is Posey having another stellar season at the plate, hitting .390 (third on the team) with 53 runs (third) and 53 RBIs (first), he has been solid behind it, thank you very much.

He has caught 13 runners out of 31 stealing. Last year, FSU's catchers threw out 18 of 77 runners. Posey also has picked off four runners, four more than the catchers did a year ago.

"I thought he caught great against us, " North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "He's got a terrific arm. He's got a good, short, quick release, and he likes to throw behind runners. He's got good athleticism and quick feet, so you're always a little bit leery to try to advance on balls in the dirt and be aggressive on the bases knowing there's a guy like that back there. He's a terrific player."

"Tony Thomas has had a great year for us, " Martin Jr. said of the second baseman from Bloomingdale High in Valrico. "But I really think Buster's the most valuable player in college baseball."

Little wonder he's on the watch list for the Johnny Bench Award, which is given to the top catcher in Division I.

Posey admits the new position took some getting used to. He experienced a few more bruises from blocking 90 mph fastballs in the dirt (a chest protector isn't made of Kevlar) and few more aches from all the squatting.

"I wouldn't say it wore my body down. I just think it took a little while for my body to get conditioned to it. I feel good now, " Posey said. "From what I heard, it's not a position that if you don't enjoy it, it's going to work out. I enjoy it. It's fun to get back there. You're involved in every play. It's not very boring back there.

"I've been pretty fortunate on how smooth the transition has been."

Posey has made his own luck.

He works hard and studies the game. Martin Jr. describes him as a "baseball rat." He's out on the field longer than a groundskeeper at the swankiest of golf courses. He's well-liked and respected by his teammates. He wants to win at everything, including academics. (He's almost a straight-A student majoring in finance.) Lastly, as a prep pitcher, he understands what and how a pitcher thinks in any given situation.

"It's good to have him back there, " senior reliever Luke Tucker said, adding Posey worked with him after hours to overcome a some arm. "He'll calm you down if need be. He'll get you pumped up if you need it. From Day 1, it's seemed like he's been (catching) his whole life. I know that's a cliche, but it's true. He's definitely that good."

"We definitely strengthened ourselves when we put Buster Posey behind the plate, " echoed Martin, now almost embarrassed by his initial reaction to making that change.

"This young man is just a special baseball player."

Fast Facts:

 

Meet Buster Posey

Position: Catcher

Year: Sophomore

Major: Finance

Ht./Wt.: 6-2, 195

Age: 20

Hometown: Leesburg, Ga.

Highlights: Started all 65 games of 2006 at shortstop, hit .346 with 58 runs, 48 RBIs, 38 walks. ... All-ACC tournament selection. ... Freshman All-American. ... All-ACC academic team in 2006. ... As a prep senior who played short and pitched, was named the Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year. ... Drafted by the Angels in the 50th round, in 2005. ... Played for the U.S. Junior Olympic team in Taiwan in 2004.