By Roscoe Nance, For TheAfricanAmericanthlete.com
It’s often said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That’s true in baseball as well.
Case in point: Norfolk State infielder Alsander Womack, the son of former Major League second baseman Tony Womack.
The elder Womack was a .273 career hitter with 1,300 at-bats in parts of 13 big league seasons with seven teams and a National League All-Star as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997.
His son is among the top 25 hitters in NCAA Division I with a .399 average after leading the nation for a good portion of the year.
“I’m blessed every day to still have him around,’’ the younger Womack says, “and to be able to talk to him every day and for him to see me do what I love. I know he loves watching me doing it. He’s the biggest influence I have. He has put a huge amount of hours with me. He’s always willing to talk to me and help me. I can’t say thank you enough.
The two text back and forth about different aspects of baseball and Alsander frequently sends his from video clips of his swing for him to critique.
It’s not a case of like father like son for the Womacks when it comes to hitting, however.
“The big difference between us is my dad was a speed guy (he led the National League in stolen bases three times),’’ Alsander Womack says. “I’m not like him at all. We’re built two different ways. I’m a contact power hitter with a little bit of speed. He was a very fast player.
“Those differences don’t change the similarities in our swing. He teaches me to get on top of the ball don’t try to lift the ball out of the park. The home runs will come. I take it he knows what he’s talking about even though he tells me I’m stronger than he was at this age. He understands I’m going to get underneath the ball at times and try to hit it out of the park. But regardless, he knows I need to try to get to the same position (each at-bat) and try to drive the ball.’’
The tips Womack has gotten from his father have paid dividends as evidenced by his ranking among the top hitters in the nation. He says he is flattered to be among the top 10 hitters in the nation but team goals are more important. The Spartans clinched their fourth MEAC Northern Division title in five years and are gearing up the conference tournament and their ultimate prize, a berth in the NCAA Regional Tournament that comes with the conference crown.
“I was blessed when I found out I was no.1 in the nation,’’ Alsander explained. “This game is so up and down. I’m okay going up and down. As a hitter average is always going to go up and down. It was crazy to see that. I try not to put too much focus on that and focus on the goal ahead as a team.
“It’s not about averages or personal records it about let’s handle business, win the division, go into the (MEAC)tournament, handle business there and see what we can do in the (NCAA) regional. That’s what we’re looking for, too. I’m glad I’m on that list. I put in a lot of work. But that’s not why I play the game. I don’t play for records or stats or accolades. I play the game to win.’’
The two text back and forth about different aspects of baseball and Alsander frequently sends his from video clips of his swing for him to critique. But it’s not a case of like father like son for the Womacks when it comes to batting styles, however.
“The big difference between us is my dad was a speed guy (he led the National League in stolen bases three times),’’ Alsander Womack says. “I’m not like him at all. We’re built two different ways. I’m a contact power hitter with a little bit of speed. He was a very fast player. Those differences don’t change the similarities in our swing. He teaches me to get on top of the ball don’t try to lift the ball out of the park. The home runs will come. I take it he knows what he’s talking about even though he tells me I’m stronger than he was at this age. He understands I’m going to get underneath the ball at times and try to hit it out of the park. But regardless, he knows I need to try to get to the same position (each at-bat) and try to drive the ball.’’
Womack was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American last season when he hit .314 with 13 doubles, two triples, five home runs, a team-high 31 RBI and 13 stolen bases. He expected to have a more difficult time of it this season, but he has been able to avoid the proverbial sophomore jinx.
“I stepped up and understood my team was going to be looking for me to produce like I did last year,’’ Womack says. “I saw it not only as an opportunity to get better for my team but also do better for myself.’’
Womack has focused on being more patient at the plate, taking more walk and waiting for his pitch.
“I’m grinding out at-bats a little bit better than I did last year,’’ he says. “It has really paid off for me, especially at the beginning year when I got off to that hot start. I kept working on it, working on it and it clicked. I’ve had some games that weren’t my best. But I like to be a tough out when I can and not make it easy on the pitcher.’’
Womack credits his improved batting average to the time he spent with his dad and older players over the summer talking about hitting. Those conversations all came back to one central point.
“They said it’s all about patience,’’ he says. “That’s the key to success in this game.’’
In addition to talking baseball, Womack spent several hours a day in the batting cage six days a week fine-tuning his swing and mentally preparing for his sophomore season. He worked on hitting the ball backside, hitting the ball inside and using his hands better.
“I was mentally preparing myself to understand there’s a scouting report out on me,’’ he Womack says. “They’re not going just threw me fastballs. They’re going to try to make me chase (bad pitches). I have to wait for my pitch.’’
Womack also spent part of the summer playing for Kernersville (N.C.) in the Carolina-Virginia Collegiate League, wood bat league for college players of all levels, and was selected for the All-Star Game.
“Playing helped me with seeing the ball better and perfecting what I wanted to work on coming into this year,’’ Womack says.
Womack’s summer regimen is paying dividends in his stats other than batting average. He is second in the MEAC in on-base percentage (.483) and fourth in slugging percentage (.536).
“He has been more consistent,’’ says first-year Norfolk State coach Keith Shumate. “He did a really good job last year. He was a really good college hitter. I think he has gone to an exceptional level this year. He stayed true to baseball. He has a plan of attack, and he’s been very consistent.’’
Shumate was the Spartans’ hitting coach last season, and he says it took him only a few practices to recognize Womack’s hitting talent.
“I attribute that to Al and his dad and the hard work they did,’’ Shumate says. “He had an idea what he was doing before he got here. His work habits stick out. Most hitters go into the batting cage and they become undisciplined at some point. They’re going to swing to hit the ball in the air for power and get away from their game time swing.
“There is a big difference in the results you see in batting practice and your game swing. He is constantly working on his game swing. He is very disciplined in that he is constantly doing what you’re supposed to be doing to prepare to hit in games. He’s preparing for the tough pitches. A lot of guys are looking for a juicy, their pitch down the middle. He knows the game is not played that way. You’ll get those pitches from time to time. He’s going to do a good job No matter what the count is, he’s going to be a threat to hit the ball hard somewhere.’’