RENO - Shaun Kort has made it easy for Nevada baseball coach Gary Powers to pencil in his name in the starting line-up game after game at first base.
The 5-foot-9 Kort, who has started all but two of Nevada's 39 games this season, was batting .373 entering yesterday's game at San Francisco and leads the team in triples (3) and is second in homers (5) after a three-homer performance in one game last weekend against San Jose State which earned him WAC Hitter of the Week honors.
"I'm not surprised at all. We knew he was a baseball player; a gamer," Powers said last week. "He's an undersized guy not blessed with a lot of athletic ability, but he's a tremendous competitor. That competitive spirit makes him a tough out. He stays within himself at the plate.
"He's a little bit like Joe Inglett in terms of his competitiveness and compact swing. Joe is a little faster. They are both smaller and make guys bring the ball to them. Shaun has got a small strike zone. When he stays down in the zone and takes a good swing, he is tough to pitch to."
Being that Inglett is one of the best players in Nevada history, that's high praise coming from Powers.
Kort shrugs off accolades like people swat at flies, however. It would be easy for him to act cocky after his fast start, but he stays even keel with his emotions.
Make no mistake about it, Kort knows he can play, and knows that he is a good hitter. He credits a lot of people for his success.
"When I was in high school, Billy Ramsay was an assistant coach my sophomore year, and he taught me a lot about hitting," Kort said. "I'd never been a good opposite-field hitter until then. The (high school) coaches did a good job of helping me with that.
"Coach Powers and coach (Jay) Uhlman have helped a lot. I look at a lot of different left-handed hitters. On our team, I look at Baker Krukow and Mike Hale a lot. Baker and I are similar. We both try to hit the ball to all parts of the field. I've been working on staying down as long as I can. When I get too high or jump at the ball, that's when I pop pitches up. If I see a fastball on the first pitch, I'm going to swing at that because that's the best pitch to hit."
All the Pack players should be taking their cues from Kort. The smallish left-hander is like a magician at the plate. A flick of his wrist, and he sends towering fly balls over the fence, line drives into the gap and rollers through the hole on both sides of the field.
"I'm not a home run hitter," Kort still insists despite his power surge last weekend. "I just try to spray the ball around the field."
The one thing that bothers Kort is his amount of strikeouts. He's fanned 21 times in 161 trips to the plate, which works out to once in every 7 1/2 at-bats. That's not a bad ratio, yet Kort believes it should be lower.
"In high school, I didn't strike out that much," said Kort, who admitted there was one year he never struck out in high school. "I've chased some bad pitches. Next year I'm going to whittle that down."
When Kort said that, he had a determined look on his face. And, when Kort said stats don't matter to him; that he doesn't care if he hits .200 as long as the team wins, you have to believe him. He doesn't lack for sincerity.
You can't help but wonder how Kort got away from some pretty good Southern California-area schools like UCLA, UC Irvine, Fullerton State and Long Beach State. Their loss is certainly Nevada's gain.
You have to wonder if Kort's 5-9 stature didn't scare some people away. Kort said he doesn't think about it now. He is happy where he's at.
"I got small offers from UCLA and UC Riverside," Kort said. "On my recruiting trip, David Ciarlo and Terry Walsh were my hosts and they are both from Southern California. I put myself in their shoes. They said they were having a lot of fun. I liked all the coaching staff and the team. I thought it was the best opportunity for me.
"I kind of wanted to be away from home. I'd never been in the snow before. It took a while to get used to the altitude. I found it harder to breathe when I first got here. I adjusted, though."
He adjusted quickly. First base was thought to be a platoon position with Kort and Dan Eastham when the season started, but the hot-hitting Kort has wrapped up that position for the next three seasons barring injury or prolonged slumps.
It was a case of taking an opportunity and running with it. Kort got his opportunity early, and without question, his bat has kept him in the lineup.
Kort is more than just offense, however. He has a respectable .986 fielding average, and he looks like he could be a capable relief pitcher if last week is any indication.
Kort came on in relief last week and struck out the first two batters he faced against Stanford, and then allowed a run and hit in his next inning against the Cardinal.
Powers said that Nevada can always use another effective lefty out of the bullpen to go with Jarad Mitchell and Mat Keplinger, and that's fine with Kort.
"He had good success at the high school level," Powers said. 'We've always had that in our minds. He came in the other day and threw strikes. We have guys that work all week out there (the bullpen) and can't come in and throw strikes."
"I told coach Powers that I'll always be mentally ready to go in and pitch and get the job done," Kort said. "I'd like to be a relief guy."
Anything to help the team. That's been Kort's mantra since his high school days, and that's what makes him such a popular teammate and a valued member of the team.