Taylor's frustrating season at plate for GJ a 'learning experience'
It was a solid but unspectacular day for Owen Taylor.
The Grand Junction High School senior slaps a clean single to right and hustles to first. It was his second hit of the day after an RBI double in the first inning.
He then works a walk and scores an important run in the Tigers’ dramatic four-run seventh inning to beat Durango.
Unspectacular is a fitting description of Taylor’s final season wearing No. 3 for the Tigers.
Owen Taylor hasn’t been the star of the diamond this season.
His senior season has been one to forget statistically. Swinging at bad pitches, missing pitches he normally hits, Taylor doesn’t look like the same hitter he was last season.
“Personally I’ve been frustrated because things haven’t been going my way, but the team has bounced back and that’s what’s important,” he says.
He forces a painful smile when he talks about his season of torment and offers a concise summary.
“It has been frustrating,” he said.
Then he smiles about the satisfying win over Durango.
Even with his struggles at the plate, Taylor continues to be a good teammate.
The D-I Kid
Owen Taylor is the D-I Kid, heading to the University of Kansas next season. At 6-foot-3 and a thick 208 pounds, he’s the kid who normally sends fastballs into parking lots and roadways.
But this year — zero home runs.
Taylor shakes his head about that power outage.
“It’s been on my mind a lot,” he said. “It’s really tough coming off my fall when I was seeing a lot better pitching than I see here in Grand Junction.”
Pitches like 90 mph fastballs that he was “crushing,” while playing with the traveling Colorado Rockies Scout Team.
There’s an indisputable disappointment in his eyes.
This spring, the D-I Kid has had to accept he’s not the power guy or the RBI guy, and he’s been hitting fifth or sixth in the lineup.
Even after the two-hit game against Durango, the kid with the sweet left-handed swing couldn’t help but think about another missed opportunity.
“Today was a better day,” he says. “But my second hit, I should have parked it on the highway.”
Division I scholarships for Western Slope players are like base-loaded intentional walks. They don’t come around very often. Everybody who plays Grand Junction knows about Owen Taylor, the D-I Kid.
For opposing pitchers, when No. 3 lumbers to the plate, it’s game on.
Pitcher versus batter is baseball’s gladiator battle and only one will be victorious.
“I do think when I come up to the plate, that guy on the mound, whether he’s 5-foot-4 or 6-foot-2, is coming after me with everything he’s got, because they want to sit me down,” he said.
He appreciates and respects that competitive spirit because that’s the same inferno that burns inside him.
As the power hitter who was blasting those 90 mph fastballs in the fall, he was expecting a big year in high school.
It hasn’t happened.
Fellow senior Tristan Lafferty, who will be playing for Colorado Mesa next season, said the team has seen the struggles but have appreciated Taylor being a great teammate.
“We all know he’s a great player. We think he might be pressing a little and he’s got a lot of pressure on him,” he says. “He’s a D-I athlete but he’s been a real team player even though he hasn’t been doing so well at the plate.”
The mental game
With zero home run trots and plenty of strolls back to the dugout, Taylor has learned some tough lessons in his senior year.
In a game where failure at the plate outnumbers success, mental toughness is the only way to battle slumps.
His eagerness to rip pitches and his aggressiveness have conspired against him. The mental part of the game has tormented Taylor.
“I haven’t been seeing much and I’ve been chasing (bad pitches),” he said. “I got off to a good start but when people started pitching around me and not giving me much to hit, I got frustrated.”
As the RBI guy who he wasn’t producing, he started pressing and thinking too much, and that’s never good for a hitter.
“I was frustrated because I wasn’t giving my teammates what they needed. I was trying to do way too much, when I should have just stayed back and took the walks,” Taylor said.
“My approach now is to see the pitch and not go after it. I’m not going to see that inside fastball that I can hit 400 feet,” he says.
He’s now soaking in the lessons, tough lessons for a senior third baseman.
“This is the season in a player’s life that it sucks it’s happening, but I’m glad that I’m getting the experience out of the way,” he said. “It’s going to help down the road, wherever I end up.”
After a bit of a smile and a sigh, he nods.
“It’s been great learning experience but it has been mentally draining,” he said. “Sometimes it’s been hard to stay in it mentally but I feel that I’ve done a pretty good job staying positive.”
After a slight pause he says, “But it has been frustrating.”
For Taylor, he’s modified his personal expectations and now he’s looking forward to a possible trip to the Class 5A playoffs.
“I come out here every day and I have fun playing the game,” he said. “I’m not down on myself too much when I don’t produce. It’s my senior year, so I’m trying to have fun and win, and maybe make a good run at state.”
On Tuesday, it was solid and slightly spectacular game for Taylor in the Tigers’ 7-3, nine-inning win over Central. He laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, then he slammed a big two-run triple to deep center in the ninth.
This might be the most memorable season of Owen Taylor’s career, but not because of individual success.
“This has been a huge learning step in my process to become a better baseball player,” he said.
Failure is what makes success that much sweeter, and Taylor is looking forward to better days ahead.
Even if it’s getting a walk, laying down a sacrifice bunt or hitting a 98-foot single to right.