One baseball expression for runners on base is ducks on the pond. For Orange Coast College sophomore infielder Jordan Beck this season, it has been more like fish in a barrel.
The Orange Empire Conference Co-MVP, who has helped lead OCC (30-8) into a Southern California Super Regional beginning Friday at 3 p.m. against Santa Barbara at Santa Ana College, has been the ultimate offensive opportunist.
Beck, without the aid of a home run and with only seven extra-base hits, has driven in a team-best 43 runs with his 52 hits in 2011. His 42 regular-season RBIs ranked No. 3 in the state and helped the Pirates score 300 runs in 36 regular-season games, which also ranked No. 3 among California community colleges.
So, with very little power — the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder has just 11 extra-base hits in 232 collegiate at-bats — one might wonder how Beck has been so productive this season.
But OCC Coach John Altobelli is not among those who might be stumped.
"Beck has been ridiculous," Altobelli said. "I thought Brett Wallach [a former Southern California Player of the Year who led OCC to the state title in 2009 before being drafted in the third round by the Los Angeles Dodgers] was good in two-out, two-strike RBI situations and we were going to call those Wallachs. But I think we may have to start calling them Becks, because he did an even better job in those situations than I think Brett did."
Altobelli and Beck said his willingness to choke up, shorten his swing and merely try to put the ball in play with two strikes, has led to the best year of a baseball career that, for Beck, began in Tee Ball. The numbers bear out Beck's success during situations in which Altobelli calls for his players to "Tiger up."
Beck, who has alternated between shortstop and first base and hit primarily in the No. 3 spot, is batting .379 with runners in scoring position, including a .571 mark with the bases loaded (four for seven). He is hitting .376 with runners on base, .308 with two outs, and has 13 two-out RBIs.
Perhaps most impressive, he has 25 at-bats with a runner on third base and fewer than two outs and has driven the runner home 22 times, an astounding 88% success rate.
"He has worked hard and bought into the idea of shortening up with two strikes, widening his stance and just getting the barrel of the bat above the ball," Altobelli said. "He's the proof in the pudding that it can be done if you buy into it."
Beck enters Friday, the opening round of the four-team, double-elimination tournament from which the winner will advance to the four-team state championship tournament in Bakersfield on May 20-22, hitting .359 with 51 hits. His lack of power is reflected in a .415 slugging percentage.
He had only 21 RBIs as a freshman, when ht hit .356 in 90 at-bats with four extra-base hits.
"He likes the game and he puts in a lot of time and effort into it," Altobelli said. "I was here one Sunday showing a recruit around and I turned the corner and Jordan was there hitting off of a tee. He does a lot of things behind the scenes in terms of his work ethic that I think a lot of guys don't see."
Beck hit .280 with 21 RBIs in a two-year varsity career at Villa Park High. He said an injury that sidelined him his entire junior season limited his opportunities to play at a four-year school.
Those opportunities were not much more plentiful after his freshman season at OCC, prompting him to commit early to Concordia, an NAIA program based in Irvine.
But his standout season has generated renewed interest from bigger schools and Beck said he will likely pass Concordia by for the chance to shine on a bigger stage.
Beck said it's difficult to identify one reason for his breakthrough production this year.
"I don't know, it just clicked," he said. "I'm just staying within myself, trying to relax and not do too much."
His coaches and teammates would agree that Beck has done plenty.