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Archive for Wednesday, March 10, 1993

NIEMEIER BREAKS JUNIOR JINX, SETS CAREER RBI MARK

March 10, 1993

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Jeff Niemeier saved his sophomore jinx for his junior season, so it took him until the third weekend of his senior year to become Kansas' all-time RBI king.

Niemeier's struggle was as epic as his statistics. It was one of the great set-up jobs of all time.

He showed as a freshman he could drive in runs.

``We were playing Minnesota at the Metrodome,'' KU coach David Bingham recalled. ``Late in a game we had a chance to win, and the three and four guys in our order didn't get it done. I told the team we really needed somebody who could drive in runs in that situation.

``(Niemeier) came into my hotel room that night and said, `I think I can be that guy.' A lot of kids can come lobby for playing time, but Jeff backed it up.''

He went on to play in 38 games as a freshman, starting 26.

AS A SOPHOMORE, Niemeier hit .379 with a school single-season record 62 RBIs.

If he drives in 50 as a junior, he breaks the KU career record of 128 set by Brian Gray from 1978 to '81.

He fell four short. His batting average fell off 60 points.

``Playing as a sophomore was easy,'' he said. ``I was playing to make a name for myself. I saw a lot of fastballs in fastball situations.''

He made a name for himself, all right.

``Everybody knew me last year, and it didn't matter if I was in a slump or not, everybody pitched me tough,'' he said.

And you'd better believe he was in a slump.

``YOU SET a standard for yourself when you play like I did as a sophomore,'' he said. ``I was struggling, and then I put more pressure on myself. We started losing, and I felt like I wasn't doing my part. It just compounds itself everyday.''

That wasn't all. A first baseman as a sophomore, Niemeier became the Jayhawks' starting catcher as a junior.

``I think that hurt a little bit,'' Bingham said.

What hurt a lot was Niemeier's push to impress professional scouts.

``He was just trying to do too much,'' Bingham said.

Until enough became enough.

``You get to the point when you're tired of not playing well,'' he said. ``I stepped back and looked at what had made me successful in the first place, and it was listening to coach Bingham and coach (Brad) Hill and working hard.

``I LIKE to be in pressure situations, but sometimes last year I neglected the hard work to get there.''

Niemeier spent a summer of semipro ball in Hays working on what Bingham and Hill coached him to do.

Through KU's 11 games this spring he has four doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs.

``I feel like there are not a whole lot of pitches people can throw by me right now,'' he said.

Bingham says he feels like Niemeier has a future in professional baseball.

``HIS MAKEUP is that he's an RBI guy,'' the coach said. ``He believes in himself in tough situations. His swing is a little long, but he has the hand speed.''

And now he has the attitude.

``There are scouts at all the games, but this year I'm not thinking too much about it,'' he said. ``I think the way to get there is to play well. I'm just concentrating on that, and if I play well enough, maybe they'll take me.''

Probably so. But if not, he has the Kansas RBI record and 50-odd games to put it out of reach for a long time.

``Somebody said the other day, `Baseball has been at Kansas for 100 years,''' he said. 'When you think about it like that, it means a lot.''

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