Finally ensconced as the Buckeyes’ every day right fielder, freshman Dominic Canzone is making it hard to remember why he hasn’t been there all along.
Columbus – On an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday night at Bill Davis Stadium…the Buckeyes didn’t play well again and lost, summarily, to the Northern Kentucky Norse – not the Norsemen, but the ‘Norse’.
The Norse jumped on Buckeye starter, and freshman, Jake Vance for a pair of runs in the first inning…then added three more off the Canton freshman in the third on a pair of booming home runs. Ironically, the biggest ‘boom’ came off the bat of his opposite number, Trey Ganns, a stocky lefthander that didn’t much for the Buckeyes’ batting average, as well. The Buckeyes could managed just three hits off Ganns in his five innings of work. He left with a 5-1 lead, and eventually was the winning pitcher of record in an 8-1 outcome.
The Buckeyes lost while plating just a single run in the second on a double by freshman Dominic Canzone, who eventually scored on a ground ball out. For the night they managed just 6 hits off four different NKU pitchers.
Like we said, it was largely unremarkable, in keeping with the Buckeyes’ last 20 games, from which they own a 7-13 record. It’s been a struggle, with young talent recruited to replace the likes of Ronnie Dawson and Nick Sergakis. They’ve recruited well enough; there’s talent. But it’s been tough winning against the likes of veteran lineups with freshmen and sophomores – and first-year transfers learning their way through the Big Ten.
But amidst the Buckeyes’ offensive woes through the start of the Big Ten schedule, and through mid-April, Dominic Canzone has turned the tables on struggle. He’s put some stress of his own on opposing pitchers, hitting .429 (15 for 35) with 11 RBIs in his last ten games.
Overall, he’s leading the team with a .333 average (28 for 84) and was named the Big Ten Freshman of The Week for the week of April 10. He followed that up with an outstanding weekend series at Michigan State last week, going 4 for 6 in the Sunday finale – with a double, triple, and a pair of singles – a home run short of the cycle in a 13-8 Ohio State win.
He’s doing what coach Greg Beals calls one of the hardest things to do in sports.
“It’s tough to hit a 90-mile-per-hour baseball,” said Beals recently. “They say it’s a round ball and a round bat, but you gotta’ hit it square? It’s not that easy.”
But despite a slow start for the first month of the season, a period that saw Dominic Canzone hover around the ‘Mendoza Line’, the lanky freshman from Walsh Jesuit High School has turned around his season and the prospects for a strong finish. His remarkable streak through the Purdue, Penn State and Michigan State weekends have struck wonder in the minds of opposing teams trying to get him out.
In his first at bat Wednesday against Northern Kentucky, he took a Trey Ganns’ 90-mile-per-hour fastball and hit it square, alright, a line drive that split the gap between center and right and one-hopped the wall for a double, his fifth hit in his last seven at bats. In his last at bat in the ninth inning, he lined another base hit back through the middle for his second hit of the night – his 10th multi-hit game of the season. And while their overall record is unremarkable, the impression made by this freshman is growing by the day. By night’s end his 2 for 5 game had raised his average to .341.
It hasn’t always been that way. Mired in a slump at the beginning of the year, he sat during early games in Florida and Arizona; and saw little time during early games when the team opened its home schedule in March.
“He went through what a lot of freshman do when they see a steady diet of Division I pitching,” said Beals. “But Dominic is very talented. We knew he was going to hit because he had hit in high school. He had averaged something like 50 hits per year during his three years at Walsh Jesuit.”
And Wednesday, while disappointed at the latest outcome against NKU, Canzone talked about his recent metamorphosis at the plate.
“Coach Angle (Matt Angle) has been helping me a lot, making a couple of adjustments to my swing,” he said. “It’s a matter of having confidence at the plate, not trying to do too much – just trying to barrel some balls up. And sometimes you just get in a zone where everything you see looks good to hit. It’s really a confidence boost to have someone like him (Angle) around if you go 0 for 4 in a couple of games – someone that knows your swing and how to fix it.”
When I first saw him shooting line drives to all fields against Purdue three weeks ago, my first impression was that there was some Don Mattingly in his swing. Another observation was that he was more coiled than Mattingly, more like Wade Boggs. Canzone smiles at such comparisons, but admits he’s grown up watching another pretty good swing to copy.
“When I was growing up I watched Ken Griffey, Jr. a lot,” he says. “He was an Ohio guy, he went to Moeller, and obviously I don’t have as much pop as he had, but at the same time I’ve tried to model my swing after him because he was just so level through the zone. I’ve always looked up to him.”
And to another good model of confidence and example. Canzone credits who else but his dad, Dave, for his formative development as a hitter.
“Yeah, my dad always worked with me as a kid. He’d take me to the cages and we’d work on my swing. He read a lot of books about hitting, the mechanics, and the right approach in general. So my dad has had a lot to do with how my swing looks – as well as all the coaches I’ve had through the years.”
At 5’11” and 170 pounds he has plenty of room to grow – plenty of time, as well, to add some of that Griffey pop that might be missing from his swing. Beals admits that while nights like Wednesday are frustrating, the beauty of college baseball is the opportunity to see better days evolve in the talent he’s recruited to play currently in place of Ronnie Dawson, Nick Sergakis, and Jacob Bosiokovic.
“We got outplayed tonight,” Beals stated matter-of-factly, over Wednesday’s letdown. “It wasn’t a matter of prep time for the weekend – not at all – we were absolutely trying to win. We’re 15-22 and at this point if we don’t have it figured out that we have to play better I don’t know if I can help them.”
But on the subject of his young right fielder, Beals changed his tone, and his tune.
“Yeah, he looks confident at the plate,” he acknowledged, appreciatively. “He’s in the batter’s box trying to be an offensive player. It shows, the confidence that he has is why he’s playing. I knew he could hit when I saw him in high school. He’s very talented. He had the typical slow start that freshmen can have, but he’s grown, he’s matured, and the confidence has matured with him.”
So while the Buckeyes struggle to pick up the beat before this weekend’s series with formidable UNC-Greensboro, of the Southern Conference, Beals is hoping for some imitation becoming the sincerest form of flattery in his offense. The baseball is looking pretty big right now for the freshman from Walsh Jesuit. It does when you’re hitting.
A different beat goes on for Dominic Canzone.