Steranka Displays Mental Toughness at the Plate
April 20, 2012
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Senior first baseman Jordan Steranka has shown his mental durability time and again throughout his career at Penn State. After being selected by the Astros in the 2011 MLB Draft, Steranka decided to return to State College for his senior year. Now, with more than half of the 2012 season already past, Steranka leads the Nittany Lions in batting average (.369), hits (55), RBIs (29) and homeruns (7).
Steranka was an essential component last weekend in Penn State's 2-1 series win over Big Ten rival Michigan, going 6-11 at the plate with three homeruns and seven RBIs. He has played consistently well all year and attributes his recent hot streak to the fact that he has settled into his groove.
"Earlier in the year I got kind of wide-eyed and swung out of my shoes, tried to do a little too much," said Steranka. "Now it's that midpoint in the season where I'm just relaxed and focused and just doing what I got to do."
Baseball has its ups and downs and players are subject to the challenges of two opposing mindsets. A player who is going through a slump may have a completely different mentality than when he is hitting everything that crosses the plate. As Steranka points out, it is important to understand that it all comes with the territory.
"Baseball is a funny sport," said Steranka. "You'll be in a slump for two or three games and I know that fourth game I'm going to get right back on track."
The game moves quickly for a player who is struggling and it's easy for him to focus on the negatives. The more he labors over the technicalities of his swing, the harder he tries to get out of the slump, which further feeds the cycle. To break the mental bind, the player must let loose and trust his instincts.
"When you're in a slump, everything speeds up," said Steranka. "You feel like you got to do too much. You got to slow things down and just relax."
When Steranka is going through a rough patch, he likes to go back to basics and simplify his swing. Focusing on the basics allows him to see the ball and hit it, without the complexities of an at bat.
"I actually get simpler," said Steranka on times when he is struggling. "If I'm going through a tough streak, next day I'll do some early work in the cage off the tee and just simplify things. Less is more, just see the ball, hit the ball."
Confidence has been a crucial part for Steranka throughout his collegiate career. His belief in his abilities keeps him levelheaded and sees him through the rough performances.
"The confidence is huge," said Steranka. "Can't get too high, can't get too low. You strikeout a couple times one game, hit a couple home runs the next. Just start over next game."
The mentality changes dramatically when a player is hitting well. His mind is clear and the game seems easy. The ball slows down coming out of the pitcher's hand and making contact goes hand in hand with swinging the bat.
"When you're feeling good you kind of just forget about everything," said Steranka. "You just see the ball, hit the ball."
Steranka takes a mixed approach when he steps into the batters box during a hot streak. He understands the importance of staying relaxed, but at the same time avoiding laziness. He also knows that if he is on fire, then he should look for a pitch to hit early in the count.
"I would say more of a relaxed aggression," said Steranka on his approach when he is hitting well. "You don't want to just be lazy, but when you're seeing the ball well you want to be aggressive early."
Experience is a big factor for a player as he faces baseball's highs and lows. A veteran knows that when he has a bad game, there will be ample opportunities to turn the performance around. Experience teaches players the discipline they need to stay positive when they're in a slump and to keep their mental composure.
"I know it's a long season," said Steranka. "Even early season struggles, you have a lot of games, a lot of at bats. You're going to have those highs and lows."
His four years in a Nittany Lion uniform has also given Steranka a key advantage against opposing pitchers. Teams have a scouting report on him and he knows what his strengths and weaknesses are, which hints to what a pitcher will throw to him in a given situation.
"They have a scouting report on me," said Steranka. "I have a good idea of what their plan to try to get me out is, what to look for in a certain count, in a certain at bat, so that plays a big factor."
Steranka has had a lot on his plate this season. He is determined to move up in the MLB Draft and that desire has motivated him to work hard and improve his game. His three homeruns in the series against Michigan moved him to sixth all-time among Penn State homerun hitters and after crushing a triple against Bucknell on Wednesday, Steranka is only 30 hits away from Penn State's all-time hits record. Despite the looming achievements, Steranka has remained focused on his short-term goals.
"It's a nice thought," said Steranka on breaking the hits record. "But right now, I'm not thinking about that at all. Just taking each game one day at a time."
Steranka will lead the Nittany Lions into Iowa this weekend for a key series against the Hawkeyes. It will be crucial for the seniors at the top of the order to step up and propel Penn State to victory and Steranka is their anchor.