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Clark: Now healthy, Raleigh back to being a star for FSU

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After an injury-plagued sophomore season, FSU catcher Cal Raleigh has played like an All-American in 2018.
After an injury-plagued sophomore season, FSU catcher Cal Raleigh has played like an All-American in 2018. (Gene Williams / Warchant.com)

Cal Raleigh admits it was hard to deal with.

The guy had been a great hitter his entire life. As the son of a college baseball coach, the Florida State catcher had always been one of the best in any league he'd ever played in -- from rec league to Pony League to whatever North Carolina league features Smoky Mountain High School.

During his first season at FSU, Raleigh was one of the best freshmen in the country, hitting .301 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs.

Then came 2017. And he struggled. A lot.

So much so that we in the media -- and certainly many in the fan base -- wondered what in the world had happened to the guy we watched in 2016? Cal Raleigh was supposed to be the next superstar of Florida State baseball. Instead, his average hovered near the .220s all year as he struggled to find any consistency at the plate.

None of us knew just how banged up Cal Raleigh was last season. How much pain he was contending with each day, while never missing a day in the lineup. And the switch-hitting catcher certainly wasn't going to tell us.

"Sometimes you get injured," Raleigh explained this week as he and the Seminoles prepared to host the NCAA Tallahassee Regional. "Obviously, I'm not one to make excuses. I still have to perform. And I just wanted to be out there with my guys. I just wanted to be a part of it. Whatever I had to do, I did it. That's why I was out there. That's kind of how I am. I just wanted to be out there with the guys. I don't want to make excuses."

So I'll make them for him. He was hurt -- specifically, his hand. He had trouble gripping the bat for most of the season. It caused him a great deal of pain.

And as you can imagine, one of the keys to hitting is being able to hold a bat.

"When you know it's there, when you know there's some things you can't do," Raleigh said, "there are limitations. I feel like I was holding back just a little bit. Obviously, I was able to compete and have good at-bats, but as far as line drives to all parts of the field, I couldn't do that because of my hand.

"So this year, I'm swinging full swings. One hundred percent. And I think that's the best part. I feel good."

Which has resulted in the best season of his career and, you have to imagine, a helium-like rise up the draft boards of Major League Baseball teams.

Raleigh is currently leading FSU in batting average (.330), slugging percentage (.593), on-base percentage (.455), total bases (131), walks (51), hits (73) and RBIs (54). He's also second on the team in home runs (13) and doubles (17).

It's been a terrific rebound season for a legitimate All-America candidate.

"You just have to throw last year away," FSU assistant coach Mike Martin Jr., said. "It just wasn't fair. He couldn't do anything with that left hand. So, yeah, he's a premium guy, and I think people are really starting to take notice. That's a big-leaguer."

Cal Raleigh -- By the Numbers
Category 2018 stats (through 60 games) Team rank*

Batting Avgerage

.330

No. 1

Slugging Percentage

.593

No. 1

On-Base Percentage

.455

No. 1

Hits

73

No. 1

Runs

44

No. 3 (tie)

Doubles

17

No. 2

Home runs

13

No. 2

RBIs

54

No. 1

Walks

51

No. 1

* -- Among FSU's everyday players

But Raleigh's importance to this team goes well beyond what he does in the batter's box.

It's what he does with the pitchers on a daily basis. It's what he does behind the plate. It's how he asserts himself as a leader.

Case in point: One of the coolest moments, I thought, of the entire ACC tournament occurred in the FSU-Clemson game -- when talented freshman pitcher C.J. Van Eyk got crossed up on a sign and threw the ball past Raleigh.

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