Every baseball game, from Little League to the Majors, starts with a meeting between the head coaches and the umpires at home plate. They’ll shake hands, wish each other luck, and exchange a card with each team’s batting order for that game.
Some of the most deep-rooted baseball philosophies and traditions stem from that piece of paper.
For a baseball coach, filling out the batting order on a lineup card is much more formulaic than simply writing nine names down. There’s some mixing and matching required as a coach tries to maximize his team’s run-scoring potential.
A general template is accepted across most, if not all, of baseball: a team’s best hitters should be stacked at the top of the lineup in order to ensure them as many at-bats as possible.
Past that, the shuffling of the batting order is left to a coach’s discretion. The coach will determine a player’s strengths and weaknesses and project how the puzzle pieces will fit together.
“Everybody’s in there for a reason,” UTA head coach Darin Thomas said.
The 2019 Mavericks are a balanced mix of new and returning players. But Thomas and his staff appear to have found that certain players are thriving in the roles they have been given.
At the time of publication, in his first season with the Mavericks, junior outfielder Connor Aube has started all 25 of the team’s games and has been in the leadoff spot for each of them. Aube has failed to reach base in only two games this season.
Traditionally the leadoff spot in the lineup calls for someone who can get on base and run well, setting the table for the middle of the lineup and giving the team a chance to get on the scoreboard early. Aube is leading the team with a .354 batting average, and leads the Sun Belt Conference in doubles with 13.
“He’s done a nice job giving us a little spark at the top,” Thomas said of Aube. “He’s played good defense, he’s been a good base runner.”
Aube, whose parents both ran track in high school, leads the team in steals with eight in 10 attempts. He’s also scored a team-high 26 runs.
Aube hit leadoff in high school and in junior college, but he wasn’t picky about his spot in the lineup entering the season.
“They told me I was gonna be somewhere in the lineup,” Aube said. “I don’t really care, as long as I get to hit.”
Past his leadoff man, Thomas said he favors having a left-handed hitter in the two hole.
With the speedy Aube on first and the opposing first baseman holding the runner on base, a hole on the right side of the diamond is opened up for a left-handed hitter. Junior infielder Zac Cook and senior catcher Will Olson, both lefties, have split most of the time in the second slot this season.
The three hole is typically where a baseball team would put its best hitter, but filling the spot isn’t so black-and-white for Thomas.
The head coach said he prefers using a strong run-producer to fill that role. He’ll put a player on a hot streak in the three hole in order to get them at-bats in the first inning, as well.
The fourth spot in the lineup, commonly referred to as the cleanup hitter, usually carries some clout in baseball lore. This is often a team’s home run hitter. Theoretically, when a team’s one, two and three hitters load the bases, the cleanup hitter is there to bat them all around.
This appears to be another spot where the Mavericks have found a mainstay.
Junior outfielder Anthony Dominguez, like fellow junior Aube, is in his first year at UTA. He’s currently second on the team in home runs and slugging percentage and third in batting average. He’s started at designated hitter in 23 of the Mavericks’ 25 games, and he’s hit cleanup in all 23 of those games.
Dominguez homered in UTA’s game against Abilene Christian University on Feb. 26, breaking a 0-0 tie in the eighth inning. The Mavericks would hang on to win 2-0.
Dominguez, again like Aube, manned the leadoff spot for his high school team but has shifted to the cleanup spot since he’s been playing at the collegiate level.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 220 pound lefty knows what he’s there to do.
“I think when runners are in scoring position, it’s pretty much my responsibility to get them in,” Dominguez said.
He likes to swing away early in the count before the opposing pitcher can get a two-strike count on him, he said.
After the four spot, Thomas said that he fills the five and six holes with RBI guys, players that can take care of whatever baserunners are left over from the top-of-the-lineup hitters.
Spots seven through nine are often filled by players who specialize in defense, or on-base guys who can get the leadoff man back up to the plate. Then it starts all over again.
Regardless of their spot in the batting order, every player in the Mavericks’ lineup is expected to contribute.
“Our biggest expectancy would probably be to produce,” Aube said. “You’re in there to produce, to win. To help us as a team to win.”