J.P. Sportman admits that the grind of the baseball season, between playing in college and at the pro level, is starting to wear him down.
But judging by Sportman’s batting average, the Schenectady native and 27th-round selection in June’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft by the Oakland Athletics out of Central Connecticut State seems to be doing just fine.
It’s been an excellent first pro season for the 22-year-old Sportman, a center fielder for the Vermont Lake Monsters. He singled in five at-bats and scored a run in the Lake Monsters’ 5-2 New York-Penn League victory over the Tri-City ValleyCats on Monday at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
Sportman is leading the Lake Monsters with a .342 batting average in 31 contests. That would probably lead the league if Sportman had enough plate appearances.
Before joining the Lake Monsters, Sportman batted .321 in 22 games for the Athletics’ Arizona League rookie class team. Between the two teams, Sportman has a .337 average.
But Sportman is hitting just .222 through his last 10 games. He got the day off Sunday against Staten Island.
“It’s a grind,” said Sportman, who played for Rotterdam Little League and Babe Ruth and is a LaSalle Institute graduate. “I think I’m approaching 100-plus games now. My body’s getting tired. I’m starting to get used to this transition of being out on the field every day by 2 and games at 7. But this is what I live for. This is what I’m here to do. I’m going to give it my all every day.”
Sportman really hasn’t missed a beat. In his senior season at Central Connecticut State, he led the team with a .337 average. He also had the most hits (63), triples (seven), home runs (three), RBI (23) and stolen bases (15).
It seems like it’s coming very easy for Sportman, who has three homers and 15 RBI for the Lake Monsters. But he knows it’s a process.
“I just try to grind out every at-bat,” Sportman said. “I try not to take anything for granted. These guys are good pitchers, so I just try to go through the same routine I have every day. I try to stay humble, I guess. I try to stay humble. I don’t want to get too big on myself.”
Lake Monsters manager David Newhan has been impressed with Sportman’s play.
“He came in and has fit right in,” Newhan said. “He’s had good at-bats. He has a solid approach at the plate and a little bit of pop. He plays a good outfield and runs a bit above average. He’s done a great job of acclimating himself to playing every day and performing.”
At 5-foot-9, Sportman is one of the smaller players on the Lake Monsters. The lack of height hasn’t hurt his ability.
“I’m a little bit smaller than everybody,” Sportman said. “I’ve been around that a lot. People have been saying that a lot. Obviously, I can play at this level. I’m going to keep playing hard. I put pride in my game on that, going out and playing hard, because a lot of other guys [have] the height. I go out and give it my all every day.”
Despite the loss, the ‘Cats (43-26) clinched the Stedler Division. The Lowell Spinners helped them achieve that by beating the second-place Connecticut Tigers, 7-3.
Tri-City, the defending NYPL champions, has been in a slump. It is 1-6 in its last seven games.
“This team has struggled the last seven to 10 days,” Tri-City manager Ed Romero said. “But I’m very proud of these guys. They’ve battled all season. They’re just going through a tough time right now.”
The best-of-three semifinals begin next Wednesday.