They say old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but Craig Larsen is proving seasoned baseball players can still find ways to improve their swing.
Larsen, a shortstop, had a rough start to his senior season. The Toms River, N.J., native was batting just .103 through his first eight games — not ideal when the team has been batting over .300 as a group.
And even though Larsen has had a lot of success on the field in the past — in high school, he led his team to two straight Ocean County championships, and as a freshman in college, he was named second team All-Ivy — he decided it was time to switch things up.
“Craig’s made an adjustment over the last seven to 10 days,” coach John Yurkow said. “I thought he had a little bit too much weight shift in his swing. He was swinging at some pitches outside of the strike zone. But over the last 10 games or so he’s really started to cut down, and he’s really been on a lot of balls, so he’s starting to swing the bat a lot better.”
Since Larsen made the change, the results have been evident out on the field. In a series win over Columbia this past weekend, Larsen went 8-16, scoring four runs and notching three RBIs.
Larsen raised his batting average over .300 on the season and helped his team get to a 14-6 record.
“I’m starting to see the ball better, starting to put it in play more, and not go out of the zone,” Larsen said. “Just putting the ball in play, good things happen, and balls fall.”
Coinciding with Larsen’s change in approach are a couple of notable streaks. After this most recent series, Larsen holds active hitting and RBI streaks of 12 and nine games, respectively.
His RBI streak is even more remarkable considering that Larsen typically bats sixth in Penn’s lineup, a slot not typically known to be prime for RBI output. Larsen is not much of a power hitter, only recording one home run thus far. Meanwhile, his teammates have totaled 19, underscoring how hot they've been to start the year.
Larsen acknowledges that it makes getting RBIs a little easier when you share a lineup with batters who have been as good as Penn’s.
“I’ve gotta give credit to my teammates too,” Larsen said. “We had a lot of runners in scoring position, a lot of guys had RBIs. But I’m just trying to put the ball in play hard, and good things happen.”
“One of the guys actually told me [about the streak] and I was pissed, I didn’t want to know,” Larsen added jokingly after Sunday’s game. “But he told me, and now it’s on my mind of course.”
It will be a challenge for Larsen to keep his mind off his streak, but he does have bigger things in mind. Larsen's main goal is to help Penn bring home its first Ivy League title in 27 years.
He and his teammates, who just scored 33 runs in a three-game stretch, are peaking at the right time, as most of the Red and Blue’s remaining games are against Ivy League opponents.
“These Ivy League conference games are what it’s all about,” Larsen said. “Just chasing that Ivy League title, Penn hasn’t gotten one in a while, so we’re chasing that and there’s no better feeling.”
All hitting streaks eventually come to an end, but championships last forever. If Larsen and his teammates stay hot, his hitting streak could prove a turning point in the Quakers’ season.