February 11, 2005
Things have not come easy at Stanford for Chris Lewis, and he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
'I've had some hardship here with regard to playing time, but I wouldn't trade it for the world,' reflected Lewis. 'It's been a wonderful experience for me, and I think that's it's made me a lot more mature individual and a better ballplayer.'
Lewis was a pretty good ballplayer as a highly-touted freshman at Stanford in 2003 but soon found out how tough the college game is. His production as an occasional starter during his first two seasons was inconsistent.
He got an opportunity right off the bat in his freshman season as the team's starter at second base but struggled offensively. He managed to stay in the club's starting lineup for most of the season's first two months but found himself hitting just .179 through 18 starts and was soon relegated to the bench. He made just one more start for the remainder of the season and was used sparingly the rest of the way. His replacement was Jed Lowrie, his current roommate who has since become a First Team All-American and National Player of the Year Candidate.
Lowrie moved over to shortstop to start the 2004 campaign and Lewis regained his starting job at second base. He started three of the team's first four games but went 0-for-8. He quickly lost his starting position when Lowrie moved back to second base and Chris Minaker became the team's starter at shortstop. After a few more occasional appearances off the bench, his hitless stretch grew to 0-for-16.
The turning point in his collegiate career arguably came on April 20 last season during a Tuesday night game versus Saint Mary's. After Stanford starting third baseman Jonny Ash broke his finger while converting a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning, the '0-for-`04' Lewis was summonsed by head coach Mark Marquess to take his spot. He responded with a double, a homer and two RBI in his two at bats.
'The night that Jonny (Ash) got hurt, Coach Marquess turned to me and said `go play because we need you',' recalled Lewis. 'At that point, I realized I needed to fill a role until Jonny got back. I turned it on, and was able to do some things offensively.'
What he did was produce a .348 batting average, three homers and five RBI in eight starts until Ash was able to return to the lineup.
Lewis has always felt confident in his skills on the diamond but that stretch of consistent play last season worked wonders for him when it came time to decide who would start for the Cardinal this year.
Lewis hit well during last fall's practice sessions and when the team came back from the Holidays to start official practice in early January, he continued his offensive production. But with returning starters Lowrie and Minaker having a grip on the team's two middle infield spots, the only option for Lewis in the Cardinal infield was third base.
But, there was another scenario about to be played out.
'Coach Marquess came to me and said `I know you can play the infield if we need you to, but there is an opportunity to fill an outfield spot'.'
Indeed, all three of last year's starting outfielders had signed professional baseball contracts following the 2004 season and the Cardinal was left with the challenge of replacing all three in 2005.
Marquess thought Lewis' athletic ability would make him an ideal candidate and give the Cardinal a chance to get his hot bat in the lineup every day.
'When Coach Marquess approached me about playing in the outfield, I had no problem with it,' said Lewis. 'I just wanted to go out there and play 100%.'
Lewis admits the adjustment has been a bit difficult for him. He didn't come up with a catchable fly ball that turned into a double during the season-opening Fresno State series. Then, he dropped a fly ball while on the move down the left field line for a crucial error that allowed a run to score in a 5-3 loss at Cal State Fullerton last Friday.
But Lewis thinks his defensive turning point came the next night against the Titans when he had an almost identical fly ball as the one he dropped the previous evening hit to him and caught it without a problem.
'When I caught that same ball on Saturday against Cal State Fullerton, I realized that I could play out here,' said Lewis. 'I realized that I just had to lock in and bear down.'
With Lewis in the outfield, everything seems to be working out well so far.
Lewis is hitting a respectable .250, including the best collegiate game of his career in his most recent contest last Sunday at Cal State Fullerton when he homered twice in a game for the first time at Stanford, while going 3-for-5 with three RBI and three runs scored to lead the Cardinal to a wild 15-10 win.
Defensively, Stanford's infielders have been stellar with just one error in the team's first six contests.
Lewis has even gone as far as saying he wouldn't mind staying in the outfield.
'We have a great defensive infield right now,' explained Lewis. 'I have no problem playing in the outfield. I'm just glad to be in the lineup every day.'
Lewis also seems to have no bitterness from having to wait two years to become a full-time starter, rather than going to another school where he might have played immediately, even if he had started the season in a slump.
'If I had of gone somewhere else, I might have been selling myself short,' commented Lewis. 'Coming to Stanford really made me earn a chance to play. It's an absolute privilege to say I'm a starting position player for Stanford. There's only a select few guys that can say that.'
'There were times when it has been hard,' Lewis continued. 'But if life was easy then everyone would be successful, and it would be a walk in the park. There are bumps in the road and there are hard times, but it's how you deal with the hard times that make the great times even better.'
Lewis hopes that last Sunday was an indication that the really good times are just starting to roll.
by Kyle McRae