When Harold Riggins
first entered Asheville's McCormick Field three days prior to the season opener, the hard-hitting first baseman from North Carolina State admits his eyes became as big as butter plates at the sight of a 32-foot-high right-field fence residing just 300 feet from home plate.
"It kinda messed with me when I first saw it," said Riggins, a right-handed hitter. "It makes you want to grit your teeth, rear back and smack one."
The short porch in right field has tantalized hitters from both sides of the plate since McCormick Field was built in 1924. Unlike many who failed to avoid bad habits, Riggins has maintained the same approach that has led to success since midway through his collegiate career. Entering Wednesday, Riggins was hitting at a .301 clip while tying for second in the South Atlantic League with 13 doubles, ranking third with 20 extra-base hits and a .577 slugging percentage, and placing fourth with 32 RBIs.
His presence in the middle of the Tourists' lineup, joining the likes of Trevor Story, Tyler Massey and Jared Simon, has helped Asheville remain in the hunt for the first-half crown in the SAL's Southern Division.
"I'm working on everything across the board," Riggins said. "In terms of my swing, I'm just trying to maintain my consistency, staying back on my backside and not trying to do too much at the plate. I'm constantly trying to make the little adjustments as we go along to make sure my swing stays the same."
The possessor of a potent swing since his days at Normal West High School in Indiana, Riggins was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 35th round in 2008 but opted to attend N.C. State. He saw significant playing time early in his college career and put together a breakout performance in the second half of his sophomore slate, including a dominant effort in the ACC Tournament that earned the first baseman Most Valuable Player recognition.
During the event at NewBridge Bank Park, home of the SAL's Greensboro Grasshoppers, Riggins went 9-for-16 with two doubles, a triple, two home runs, two intentional walks and five RBIs in the Wolfpack's four games. In the team's third-round victory over Virginia Tech, Riggins when 4-for-5 with an opposite-field blast that cleared the 65-foot-high scoreboard in right field.
"It was a great way to end my sophomore season," Riggins said. "To help my team get to the championship game was something I never thought was possible until I did it. That really gave me the confidence and let me know what I could do against any type of pitching. It helped me relax and work on the things I really needed to work on, instead of having my mind wander everywhere. I could finally focus and play the game."
After a strong junior season in 2011, Riggins was the Colorado Rockies' seventh-round pick last June. He joined Casper in the Pioneer League and responded with a .279 batting average, eight home runs and 35 RBIs. The infielder has picked up where he left off last summer with a strong start to the 2012 campaign, which includes stellar showings with the leather at the first turn.
"I take a lot of pride in my defense," Riggins said. "The big thing is staying down on ground balls. I see a lot of guys at first base just going through the motions. If you're going to do that, you might as well not do it at all. If you're going to improve, you need to get the most out of everything you do. If you do that, little things add up and allow you to get better over a long period of time."
Even though the right-field wall at McCormick Field continues to cast its substantial shadow, Riggins realizes he must stay focused on the task at hand. The 22-year-old has employed that same approach his entire life and has no plans on altering his attitude at this point in his professional career.
"I wouldn't change any of the experiences I've had," Riggins said. "I feel that all of the things that have happened have led me to here. Now all I can do is to keep trying to get better as a baseball player and as a person."
Bombs away! The first round of the South Atlantic League's Home Run Derby, slated for Charleston, S.C., as part of the circuit's All-Star Game festivities, will be held on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown in Charleston Harbor. The 10 competitors, featuring five from the Northern Division and five from the Southern, will take 10 swings apiece while the U.S. Coast Guard notes the longest hits to determine the finalists. The host Charleston RiverDogs have hired kayakers and personnel on jet skis to retrieve the balls.
Sweet taste of victory: The Rome Braves put their 13-game losing streak behind them with a 5-3 victory at Augusta on May 15. Third baseman Kyle Kubitza stroked three hits for the R-Braves, who posted their first victory since April 28.
Bundymania continues: Delmarva right-hander Dylan Bundy tossed five innings for the first time as a professional while receiving a no-decision against Lakewood on May 14. Bundy, who allowed an unearned run on two hits while hitting a batter, has given up four hits and two unearned tallies with 36 strikeouts in 25 innings this season. His pitching coach, Troy Mattes, believes Bundy is still honing his fastball command as well as the depth of his changeup, telling the Salisbury Daily Times, "Tonight Dylan's fastball was pretty consistently 94-96 and touching 97 or 98. His changeup was 88-90 mph, so it's just a little bit firm. So being able to take a little more velocity off of it would help get the hitters more out in front of it."