GARY | It’s a simple lesson, really.
Just be yourself.
That's the approach Brian Kolb has taken in his budding professional baseball career. As he prepares to turn 26 in two months, he’s becoming increasingly important to the RailCats as they cling to the lead in the wild card standings.
Barely a month remains in the regular season of the American Association race, and it’s time for moves that mitigate potential regret. A change will do a team good.
With 15-year pro Cristian Guerrero struggling at the plate and putting too much pressure on himself, the all-important No. 3 spot in the RailCats’ batting order has been bequeathed to Kolb for the time being. Guerrero will man the fifth or sixth slot.
While Kolb’s hot bat and the desire to give Guerrero, the franchise’s all-time leader in home runs, a bit of a mental break are major factors in the move, his even-keel nature made him a prime candidate for a promotion to what others would deem a pressure-packed lineup spot.
“Certainly we think what we’re doing right now is the best for the ball club in the long run,” RailCats manager Greg Tagert said. “He may not be your prototypical No. 3 hitter, but he can do some things that will deepen that lineup and give us some options in that 3-4-5 spot.
Kolb has hits in 50 of 63 games played this season, usually in the sixth or seventh slot in the lineup. In the four-game win streak the ‘Cats rode into Monday’s game with Kansas City, Kolb was 6-for-16.
Kolb went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs scored in Sunday’s 7-3 win. He singled in his first at-bat Monday, his second consecutive start in the No. 3 spot, and his .309 batting average was third on the team entering the contest.
The RailCats are far and away the lightest team in the American Association when it comes to home runs, so the No. 3 hitter isn’t expected to slug.
“I know, especially with this team, we’re not expected to do more than be ourselves,” Kolb said. “We don’t have typical power guys in the 3-4-5 spots, so the main difference is I hit a little earlier in the game.
“It hasn’t really affected me much because I’m not being asked to do more than I’m capable of doing.”
The year did not start well for Kolb as he suffered a hairline fracture in a finger in the first game of the year. After missing the rest of the first week of the season, he had to wear a splint, tape it and eschew the use of batting gloves.
Still, in his fourth year with the team but second full season as a starter, Kolb is finding his spots like he did when he was a Division III All-American selection at Wheaton (Ill.) College.
“I think part of it is I just started to focus on getting my pitch to hit,” Kolb said. “It’s funny how baseball is. You get a couple good games in a row and all of a sudden the confidence gets back, and you start rolling from there.”
In the offseason Kolb talked often with team leaders Adam Klein and Mike Massaro, savvy hitters who now hit directly in front of him in the lineup.
“The main thing that drove me this year is winning a championship,” Kolb said. “Talking to Klein and Massaro, we know in order to do that, each individual has to take care of his business.”