After two flyouts, a line-out, two groundouts and a strikeout, Everett AquaSox third baseman Patrick Kivlehan was officially impressed.
“He came up and told me, ‘That was a good 0 for 6,’ ” recalls Taylor Ard, a first baseman for the AquaSox, the Mariners’ Class A short-season affiliate. “I don’t know if there is such thing as a good 0 for 6.”
Sometimes, hitting is a lot like playing poker. You can do everything right, but still get double-crossed by fate.
Throughout much of his first professional season, Ard is finding that the baseballs his bat so routinely hits square have an unsettling attraction to opponents’ gloves. Scott Steinmann, the Aquasox hitting coach, insists that the Prairie High graduate’s .256 batting average does not reflect the quality of his at-bats.
Even so, Ard’s mood fluctuates about as much as San Diego weather. The 22-year-old can crush a fastball, but his confidence, it seems, cannot be crushed.
“I’ve seen him hit three home runs and seen him have a game that wasn’t very good, and you can’t tell the difference,” said Chard Burchett, Ard’s coach at Prairie. “That’s something that very few people can do. That’s how pro ballplayers carry themselves.”
Burchett’s finest on-field Ard memory came during Taylor’s sophomore year of high school, when Prairie faced Hudson’s Bay and All-State pitcher Greg Peavey. Peavey, a future sixth-round major-league draft pick, had been dominating Clark County batters since leading Hazel Dell to the Little League World Series. But seconds after throwing his first pitch to Ard, he watched the ball sail over the fence for a home run.
After Ard rounded the bases and touched home plate, he just kept going — first to All-State teams his junior and senior seasons, then to Mt. Hood Community College, then to Washington State on a baseball scholarship, and then to the Mariners organization after Seattle selected him in the seventh round last month.
And, like Ard’s demeanor, the results have been solid.
Hitting third in the lineup, Ard — who stands at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds — leads the AquaSox with 28 RBI through 37 games. His five home runs are second on the team, and while his batting average could use a protein shake or two, he has struck out only 22 times.
But at this stage in a player’s career, numbers are like muumuus — they don’t reveal much. What’s more significant to guys such as Everett manager Rob Mummau is the attention to detail Ard pays during each pre-game at-bat and ground ball.
Most minor-league coaches will tell you that, aside from the likes of an Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez — whose natural talent can magnetize even the most casual of observers — the difference between making the majors and riding a bus is staying even-keel and not taking days off. So far, Ard fits that big-league prototype. But can he continue to do so?
“I just tell him to stay away from the party animals, don’t deviate,” said Darold Ellison, Ard’s hitting coach at Mt. Hood. “I tell him that he’s going to be a big-leaguer one day. He was born to hit.”
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org