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Baseball's Daugherty has it all figured out

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Thumbnail image for 18_Catspy_2011_06_RB.JPGWhen you've never gotten anything less than an "A" on your report card in your entire life, there's a perception that academics come easy. As T.J. Daugherty of the baseball team can attest to, it's nowhere near that simple.

Daugherty, who will graduate Sunday with a 4.0 grade-point average, has endured his fair share of academic-related panic attacks. Receiving a "B" may not seem like life or death to most people, but to Daugherty, the mark of excellence was a standard he wasn't willing to part with.

"I set the bar high for myself," Daugherty said. "My parents did a good job when I was growing up of making sure grades were important to me. I always expected myself to get an 'A' because I knew that I was capable of that. Anything less meant I wasn't doing my best or I was letting myself down."

Daugherty's perfection wasn't without its close calls, however. There were two classes in particular, both in the same semester his sophomore year, that nearly ruined Daugherty's 4.0. 

His key to academic success was to put the work in early in order to give himself a mental cushion before the end of the semester. But in this particular case his sophomore year, he found himself on the verge of a dreaded "B." He needed a 94 on the final paper in his Honors class and a 95 on his final exam in economics.

So, Daugherty, even with his responsibilities at baseball, did what any student would do - he ate, slept and breathed at the library. The workload of cramming with practices the next day was tough enough, but the pressure of keeping the perfect record alive felt overwhelming.

"Experiencing failure like that was something I didn't want to do," Daugherty said. "Most people wouldn't see it as failure, but I would have."

Daugherty ended up getting those "As," and was awarded the Male Scholar Athlete of the Year at the ninth annual CATSPY Awards last week.

"It's one of those things where I put all that effort because it's important to me, but it's not something I necessarily do for the recognition of anybody," Daugherty said. "But to be set apart from the rest of the student-athletes that night and to be recognized, it was a cool honor."

Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that the guy who has it all figured out in the classroom also has it figured it out on the baseball diamond as well. Or, well, close to it.

No, Daugherty hasn't played much for the baseball team during his four-year career at UK. As a walk-on out of Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky., Daugherty didn't come to Kentucky with the intention of even playing baseball.

In 2008 he redshirted, in 2009 he never saw game action and the last two years he's totaled two hits in nine at-bats. 

But the bench isn't Daugherty's home. He plays a far more important role.

A short jog down the right-field line next to a brick wall is an oversized shed with two mounds and a place Daugherty calls his sanctuary. As UK's bullpen catcher for his entire career, Daugherty has lived behind the shed's home plates getting Kentucky's relievers ready for game action.

Before UK's pitchers face the bright lights of the diamond and before being summoned to the mound to take the ball and stare down a batter 60 feet, 6 inches away, they must warm up with Daugherty in the bullpen. 

"I've taken a lot of time and spent a lot of years down there kind of mastering that position to a certain extent," Daugherty said. "It's something that I take pride in and the pitchers have kind of come to expect of me. If I'm not there for whatever reason, like if I've gotten into the game, they joke that it's not the same without me down there. I think I provide a comfort factor for a lot of the guys down there because I've been doing it for so long. Guys know what to expect and they feel like they can trust me for feedback on their pitches and adjust them as they need to be."

Daugherty, in a sense, has served as a coach of sorts. He's responsible for making sure the pitcher is in the right frame of the mind. Whether that's calming a guy down, providing him feedback on his pitches or offering a few words of encouragement, it's Daugherty's job to get them ready. 

"That comfort piece I can provide to those pitchers is big because when you go out in games, your heart rate gets going fast and there are a lot of things that get going," Daugherty said. "If that starts in the bullpen, it's not going to be a good day for you. I just try to keep guys calm and focused and send them out there with the best chance they have to succeed."

Obviously, Daugherty would have liked to have played more in his time at UK, but as a walk-on, Daugherty said he never had any expectations or demands to play. Head coach Gary Henderson said Daugherty may have played more had it not been for a few injuries, but to his credit, Henderson said he's never complained or sulked about his role, instead becoming a key leader in the clubhouse.

"The more of those guys you have in your program the better off you are, regardless of what their role is," Henderson said. "Having somebody like that who can provide leadership on how to go about your daily activities, I think that's important for any program."

4585357[1].jpegDaugherty has understood his role from day one and embraced it. That understanding, along with his baseball intelligence and hard work, may be why he's flourished in his role and has become so invaluable to his teammates.

"I know I can help my team in more ways than just swinging the bat," Daugherty said. "Just because I'm not on the field doesn't mean I can't have a positive effect on the team."

Admittedly not blessed with the physical skills that some of his teammates are, Daugherty said he's earned everything he's gotten, which has helped him to appreciate every bit of playing time he's received.

Daugherty's fondest memory came in his first opportunity for playing time. In his first career at-bat last year against San Diego State, Daugherty roped a two-run single to the outfield.

"That was the most fun I've had running 90 feet in a long time," Daugherty said. "The thing about it that I will forever remember is not how I necessarily felt when I hit it or when I saw the ball get through, it was the reaction from my dugout. We were down by six runs or something in the ninth inning and in the grand scheme of things it meant very little, but the reaction from the guys in the dugout showed that they were absolutely pulling for me. That made it all the more special."

Daugherty didn't get to experience many more trots to first base in his career and the opportunity to do it again is closing as the 2011 season winds down. Neither Daugherty or Henderson would completely rule out a return next year if Daugherty were to decide to attend graduate school, but as a fourth-year junior, Daugherty said he's realized his playing days are likely numbered.

His baseball days, however, may not be completely over. Post-graduation, Daugherty is hoping to go into sabermetrics, the analysis of baseball statistics through objective evidence.

"It's basically taking the opposite approach of what traditional baseball scouts say," Daugherty said. "They see a player and they see how good he is physically, what his tools are and what he can do. Sabermetrics analysis looks at numbers specifically and says, based on this and what the numbers tell me about the player, how valuable is he, how much is he producing and how much is he worth economically to my team. How many wins and how much money should we pay him based on his performance, not based on what he could do."

For someone who will graduate with a mathematical economics degree and a passion for baseball, it seems like a job tailored specifically for Daugherty.

"That would be the dream for me," Daugherty said. "It's just the perfect storm of baseball and numbers and economics. It doesn't matter to me in the long term how much money I make. I just want to enjoy my job."

He's been in contact with a couple of major-league teams - the Houston Astros and the Oakland Athletics - about possible future employment and hopes to make some connections this summer, quite possibly with the Lexington Legends.

Whatever Daugherty chooses to do, he clearly seems to have everything figured out.

"He's as impressive kid as you'll ever be around," Henderson said.

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