In today's Journal, you'll find a baseball update (CLICK HERE). I spoke with John Cohen, who's glad to see some veteran players returning to the lineup but is guarding his optimism. It's hard not to be encouraged, however, by the return of sophomore third baseman Daryl Norris.
He played the role of DH this past weekend, because the knee injury he suffered last month hasn't fully healed. Norris went 6 of 10 with four RBIs in three games, and his walk-off double on Sunday gave the Bulldogs the series victory.
"He's different, he's mature, he's able to slow the game down," Cohen said. "Daryl's one of those guys who, he's out for four weeks, and was able to slow the game down mentally and do the things he needed to do."
I caught up with Norris last night, and the interview aired on today's Bulldog Beat. If you missed it, here are some excerpts from that interview.
BL: How are you feeling?
DN: Not too bad. We're worried about the swelling going up, but it really hasn't been too bad. Just staying on that ice and trying to keep it down.
BL: Take me through the game-winning hit.
DN: I knew the guy (Kevin Ziomek), he had pitched Friday night, so I had seen him, and I felt like I saw him good Friday night. So I was pretty confident getting to the plate. He threw a first-pitch fastball; it was inside, so I let it go. Then after that I was really making sure I didn't let another fastball get by me that I could hit and extend the inning. Got one out over the plate and managed to get it into the gap and score Mitch (Slauter) from first.
BL: What's it feel like to have that moment, especially after being out so long?
DN: It was a great feeling, especially after being out for so long. It's the longest I've ever been out for baseball. It's been hard sitting on the bench watching, and even being at home watching them on Maroon to the Max, and listening to the games by Jim (Ellis). It was really good to be back out there, and to be able to have a weekend like I did was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I got that opportunity this weekend.
BL: How many walk-off hits have you had in your career?
DN: Right now I can only think of two. I had one when I was in eighth grade. I was playing on varsity, and we were in the second round of the playoffs, and I hit a walk-off home run in the 12th inning. Then I hit another one later on in my high school career. But other than that, that's been it.
BL: Are you surprised you returned to action so soon?
DN: Probably early (last) week, I knew I wasn't going to be 100 percent, and I still probably won't be for a few more weeks. Hopefully I'll get back to playing some third here pretty soon. Probably Tuesday or Wednesday I started getting some swings, and if I felt like I was going to be able to see the ball well enough and be able to help our lineup, that was the main thing. Just being out for so long, it's hard to jump back in there after being out. I didn't want to come back too early where I didn't help, so this week I could do that.
BL: Tell me about how you injured the knee.
DN: I guess my cleat got caught in the ground or something like that. But I felt it right whenever I started my swing. I felt something kind of give way and pop in my knee. Right after that I hit the ground, and I knew something wasn't right. Jason (Wire), our trainer, came out, and he said that he could see my kneecap was out of place through my pants leg, and he kind of worked it back in place through there. I wasn't really sure if it was something serious or not until the next day, I went and got the MRI.
BL: How do you jump back in and hit so well after being out?
DN: The main thing was just to try and get that out of the back of my head. If I went up there thinking about what happened a few weeks ago, then I wasn't going to be very productive at the plate, so keep that out of my mind and just try to square the ball up. I'm probably not swinging as hard as I normally would, and that probably helped me this weekend, just trying to get barrel on the ball.
BL: Is there a sense of relief among the team after finally getting an SEC series win?
DN: It was huge for us to get that win. I didn't realize it had been so long since we had won a series. For right now, the middle of the season, kind of being toward the back of the SEC West, we really couldn't afford going another game behind. We definitely still have a lot of baseball left, and we have a lot of ground to make up, and I think we're going to start doing that here in the next few weeks.
BL: What was the sense in the dugout when you were down four runs in the fourth inning?
DN: Main thing was, we knew they were running deep in their bullpen, because they had thrown just about everybody that Saturday and Friday before. So we knew we had a lot more arms than they did left, and we knew it was going to come down to the end, so we just kept battling, and it eventually worked out for us.
BL: This team has a history of rallying. Why so?
DN: I think it's just the guys we have right now in this program. They just never give up, and it's something I'm just happy to be a part of right now, just a team that battles until the last out. We've come back in a lot of games, and like you said, we've came very close to coming back in a lot, too. There's just something really cool about this team, and I'm glad I'm a part of it.
BL: Do you see brighter days ahead for this team?
DN: Definitely. I think we are just scratching surface of what we can do as a team, and I think these next few weeks we're really going to bust out and hopefully make a run towards the end of the season.
BL: What are your expectations for playing this weekend and for when you might return to third base?
DN: (Today) I'm going to meet with Dr. (Rusty) Linton and see what he thinks about starting working on some third base stuff. I'd like to be back out there this weekend; if not this weekend, then the next. I'll probably not have as much range as I did before, but still being able to make the routine plays and being able to get all our bats back in the lineup.