During the offseason, Riley Unroe followed his Class A Advanced Charlotte manager Down Under to play for Brisbane in the Australian Baseball League. Tampa Bay's No. 30 prospect went there to improve his approach at the plate and that's already paid off this season.
"The biggest thing I learned there was to play free and easy and take it one at-bat at a time," Unroe said. "It's tough to take baseball seriously over there. To play in that kind of atmosphere, there's no worries about success and failure. It's just about being able to be play every day and have fun. It's very encouraging. I sure hope it starts to become a tradition because it's a great way to work on any baseball aspect in a relaxed environment."
Now batting .322 for the season, he went 4-for-5 with a double and two runs scored in the Stone Crabs' 7-3 victory over the Palm Beach Cardinals at Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday night. The four hits marked a career high for the 20-year-old second baseman, who served as designated hitter.
"I've been able to flush out every previous at-bat, whether it was good or bad," he said. "It's awesome to see it working because I spent a lot of time with my dad [former Major Leaguer Tim Unroe] this offseason on understanding that lesson and treating games pitch by pitch."
Tim Unroe spent parts of five seasons with the Brewers, Angels and Braves from 1995 to 2000.
"I try to take in everything I can get from him," the 2013 second-round Draft pick said. "We just go through everything we can baseball-wise and try to keep the mental game on track. It's a blessing to learn from him."
After flying out to center field and hitting an infield single to shortstop in his first two at-bats, Unroe fought back from an 0-2 count and clubbed a one-hopper over the fence in left-center for a ground-rule double to lead off the fifth. The New Orleans native admitted it was kind of an "excuse-me double."
"It was a fastball inside and was just more of a reaction than anything and it happened to catch the barrel," he said. "What I've realized lately is when you get in slumps, you can't carry one at-bat to the next. If you strike out, forget it and go play defense to get your mind off of it. Come into your next at-bat and take a deep breath so you can go after that one."
Unroe said he drew some inspiration from a fiery display when Stone Crabs skipper Michael Johns was ejected by home plate umpire Edwin Moscoso in the top of the sixth.
"He's out there defending his players," he said. "He always looks out for us. For him to go out there and have our backs, it gets us going in the dugout."
Charlotte's Pat Blair lofted a two-run homer to left-center in the sixth while Mac James and Alec Sole drove in two runs apiece.
Stone Crabs starter Greg Harris (1-2) allowed one run on four hits and four walks while fanning three over six innings.
Palm Beach's Ian McKinney (2-3) was tagged for five runs on six hits and four walks and struck out two in 4 2/3 frames.
Michael Leboff is a contributor to MiLB.com