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March 25, 2013

Stewart back on track for homecoming vs. UF in Jax



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During fall practice, the talk around Dick Howser stadium focused on the potential of true freshman outfielder DJ Stewart.

At 6 feet and 230 pounds, the Yulee, Fla. native impressed with his power at the plate and speed in the outfield. He earned his way into the opening day lineup as the starting centerfielder, and has started in left field recently as Seth Miller has come on strong in center.

Stewart got off to hot start with a double in his first career at-bat and finished the weekend with a walk-off home run. After a lull, Stewart got back in the groove again this weekend with nine RBIs against Georgia Tech including a game-winning, two-run single in Sunday's 8-6 comeback victory.

"DJ is beginning to understand each day what it takes to be successful," FSU head coach Mike Martin said.

The freshman, who was a star running back and outfielder at tradition-rich Jacksonville Bolles School, is hitting just .278 for the year but is tied with Marcus Davis for the team lead in RBIs with 23.

After FSU was shut out in the first game of Friday's doubleheader, Stewart paced FSU to a blowout of its own in the nightcap with six RBI, the most in a single game by a Seminole this year, including four on a grand slam for his second homer of the year. He was named Co-ACC Player of the Week for his series against GT.

FSU assistant coach Mike Martin Jr. said that he thinks Stewart's time spent on the gridiron has helped him develop a mental toughness that allows him to stay calm in big-time situations as a true freshman.

"I remember his coaches at Bolles talking about all the clutch hits he got," Martin Jr. "He's got the football mentality, he's a tough kid. Guys like that, that are physically tough, generally are mentally as well and that's why we love some football players."

After his hot start, Stewart came back down to earth a bit as he was just 8-36 (.222) with eight RBI in his last 10 games entering Friday. Martin Jr. said he worked in the batting cage with getting Stewart to keep his hands in the bat in a dangerous position.

Stewart said it has helped and they've been able to take advantage of his powerful frame more with the slight tweak.

"With Meat we've been working on just using my power," Stewart said. "I'm a big guy so instead of just loading my hands as much as I used to, just have them set and do a smaller load and then just try to drive the ball and not try to do too much."

Clearly the adjustments paid off over the weekend. Miller said that's what he and his teammates expect from Stewart after the show he put on in the fall.

"DJ he did absolutely incredible this fall and the beginning of the spring," Miller said. "He had a little rough patch here in the beginning of the season, but the kid gets clutch hits. That you can't doubt, he did it against Rhode Island and he did it (Sunday). He's an unbelievable hitter. He definitely swung the bat the best out of all of us this fall and that's why he's still in the three-hole, that's where you put your best hitter, and we've all got confidence in him."

Stewart is hoping to keep things rolling at the plate on Tuesday as heads back to Jacksonville for a homecoming of sorts against in-state rival Florida at 6 p.m. at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

At Bolles Stewart played in the Baseball Grounds a few times early in his career and has attended the majority of the neutral site games between the two teams as fan, except for last season when he had a game on the same night. Stewart said he expects to have a rather large cheering section on Tuesday as FSU looks to clinch the season series after winning 4-1 in Gainesville on March 12.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I can't wait to see all my friends at the game. I've actually been talking about this game since last year in high school with them and I was trying to get as many of my friends there and I just can't wait to see them."



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