College baseball: Jackson State’s Cornelius Copeland happy to take one for the team
Cornelius Copeland led off the second inning of Jackson State’s season opener on Saturday. He was hit by the pitch and took his base.
In the sixth, he led off again, and again he was plunked.
Then, against Jacksonville in the second game of the day’s doubleheader, he stepped in with two outs in the eighth, got hit yet again, grimaced and went calmly on his 90-foot jog.
Though three HBPs in two games might seem a bit much, for the player who got hit by more pitches than anyone else in the country last year, it wasn't that unusual. Copeland was popped by 26 pitches in 54 games last season ... and he played in 10 fewer games than the man who came in second.
RELATED: Sortable 2016 statistics
Getting nailed by a baseball is never a particularly pleasant feeling, Copeland says. But if it means getting on base and giving his team a chance to score some runs, he will happily deal with the bruises in the morning.
“At this point, after getting hit so many times, I’m used to it,” he said in a preseason interview. “If it comes at me, I just wear it and get on base any way I can. Hopefully it doesn’t put me out of the game.”
The senior enters 2017 in his second season at Jackson State after transferring from St. Petersburg College. All Copeland did in his first year at the Mississippi school was bat .422 with a .537 on-base percentage — both of which lead the nation among returning players. No amount of soreness could slow him down in April when he hit a torrid .522 in 88 at-bats.
It wasn’t an easy adjustment moving away from his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla., and playing at the Division I level, Copeland said, but he adapted and had the best year of his life at the plate after a hitless February.
“At first I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first time away from home,” he said. “But it’s actually pretty nice, seeing something away from home, and I adjusted to it quickly, meeting new people and new coaches.”
The middle infielder said his goal is to put up better numbers than he did in 2016, which might be difficult because of the high bar he set in 2016 and opponents knowing what to expect from him after a year in the Southwest Athletic Conference.
“Leave the past in the past and try not to think about it,” Copeland said. “I tell myself ‘I know I’ve done it before, so I can do it again,’ and you try to not put too much pressure on yourself.”
That sparkling .537 on-base percentage in 2016 was largely a function of his superb hitting, but the 26 hit by pitches — a number equal to the amount of walks he had — certainly helped. And while it’s awfully hard to ignore the beating he was taking throughout a season, Copeland was surprised to learn just how much he’d be hit.
“After a while it became like me getting hit twice a game, and the next day getting hit again,” he said. “Then I wake up in the morning and I’m bruising up in three different spots, and I’m realizing that I’m actually getting hit a lot.
“One day I looked it up and saw the numbers and saw tweets about me leading the country, and it’s like, ‘Yeah, I am getting hit a lot.’”
Copeland was hit by a pitch in an whopping 21 games last season, including an incredible four-game stretch in mid-March in which he was hit seven times. He's now been plunked 29 times in 57 games wearing a Tigers uniform.
Some people might accuse him of crowding the plate. Copeland denies that with a laugh.
It's Gameday!! Come out and support your JSU Tigers at 12 first game of a Triple Header today! pic.twitter.com/jEVkUPEpBS— JSU Tigers Baseball (@JSUTigersBBall) February 18, 2017
Copeland recalls being hit in the leg, knee, shoulder, back, thigh, ribs and, most commonly, arm and bicep last season. The worst?
“Worst spot was probably when I got hit around my knee,” he said. “That actually brought me to the ground. I was limping for a little bit but I got up and luckily I got to stay in the game. But that was by far the worst.”
The ideal location?
“I’d probably say my left arm, my bicep. My non-throwing arm. It bruises up, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me that much. There’s spots that can be much worse.”
The senior has big dreams for the season, ranging from personal (boosting his MLB draft stock after being a 36th-round pick out of high school) to team (returning to the postseason after a two-year absence). While those goals are off to a rocky start — the Tigers began 1-2 and Copeland went just 1-for-9 in the opening weekend — the one thing that always seems to be there for him is his knack for refusing to budge on an inside pitch and moving down to first.
That's his game, getting hits and getting hit. It seems to be working out just fine for him so far, bruises and all.