Former Holy Family high school standout pitcher and Hitdawg gym rat Connor Herd recently had his first college start. Connor attends Mercer University, a Division I school in Macon Georgia that competes in the Southern Conference (SOCON). After a quality first start against perennial powerhouse Virginia Tech, I caught up with Connor on the phone before he got on the bus to Florida to play Bethune-Cookman.
Of course I have to ask, how did you feel going into your first college start?
I found out I was pitching the Tuesday before but it really didn’t hit me until about a half hour before the game. That’s when I started getting nervous and excited. After the first pitch I calmed down a little, then a little more after the first out. By the end of the first inning I was fine. By then I was like, “it’s just baseball.”
How is facing college hitters different than facing high school hitters?
There is a big difference. You have to limit your mistakes. In high school you can make lots of mistakes in a game and the hitters won’t take advantage of you, here the hitters will punish you. You have to be careful and focus on every pitch; you just can’t miss as much. Not only do the hitters get a hit when you do, they might pop it out of the ballpark.
How do the practices in college differ from high school? How do you prepare?
The intensity is way higher. During the fall it is a bit more relaxed, but the closer we got to the season the more and more intense the practices became. You have to continually step up in practice. You have to pitch your best or you just won’t play. The practices themselves are 3 hours or more for the team. We work on team situations and take batting practice pretty much every day. But the pitchers have to come an hour early and work on things, usually PFP’s (Pitcher Fielding Practice – a practice where pitchers work on fielding bunts, covering first, turning double plays, etc.).
Are there things/commitments outside of practice that you are required to do as well?
Yeah, lots. Baseball is kind of your entire life. Of course we already talked about practice but you are also in the weight room almost every day. We have Monday off, but it really isn’t off. You are not required to do anything but everybody does anyway so it is really an everyday job. There are lots of other little commitments too. We put on clinics, visit hospitals, things like that.
Did working out at Hitdawg help prepare you for how much time you would be spending on baseball in college?
Definitely. I came into Hitdawg everyday either to practice or lift. It helped prepare me for the grind of everyday baseball. There are no days off; you can’t say I don’t feel like going to baseball today. They don’t care what your excuse is. If you don’t want to be there someone else will. Hitdawg also helped me learn from my mistakes. Believe me everyone makes them against this competition, the good players don’t cry about it, they figure out how to get better from them.
Was there any other freshman who didn’t have extra training experience who had trouble adjusting?
There was one. He wasn’t prepared. He transferred.
What advice can you give to guys thinking about playing college baseball?
Well, first you have to work out. You just have to. There is always someone better than you who is working hard. They will leave you behind if you don’t. Also, don’t get discouraged. Keep working because you never know when your opportunity will come. Be ready for it when it does.
Connor takes his own advice. When a senior starter went down with an injury, Connor stepped into his role and performed. He is slated to start again this weekend in Florida. A big thanks to Connor for taking time out of his clearly busy schedule to talk to us and best of luck the rest of the season.