They are called the "tools of ignorance," and The Citadel's Bryan Altman earned a new respect this season for baseball players who strap on the catcher's gear game after game.
"Catching is the hardest position on the field," said the Bulldogs' redshirt senior. "It's really demanding and takes a lot of work. And it's not so much that it's a hard position to play, which it is, but that it also affects your hitting.
"You look across the country, and it's hard to find a lot of good hitting catchers."
Altman, a 6-1, 185-pounder from Summerville High School, learned those lessons the hard way this season. At the season's start, he took one for the team, moving from second base to catcher to fill a gaping hole behind the plate left by Richard Jones, drafted in the ninth round by the Chicago Cubs last year.
And it's not like Altman did badly back there. In 31 games at catcher, he batted .303 with six home runs and 28 runs batted-in.
But the emergence of redshirt sophomore Grant Richards at catcher in the second half of the season has allowed Altman to move back to second base. There, Altman has regained his form as one of the top hitters in the Southern Conference and a major reason the Bulldogs (34-20, 21-6) are hanging on to first place heading into the regular season's final series this weekend at Georgia Southern.
In 23 games at second base, Altman is hitting .376 with five homers and 27 RBIs, giving him a .333 average with team-best totals of 11 homers and 55 RBIs.
Since the last time he started at catcher, April 30 at Samford, Altman is batting .414 with 15 RBIs and 15 runs scored in 10 games.
And in SoCon play, Altman has been particularly devastating, ranking second in league games in batting average (.444), slugging percentage (.815) and home runs (10); third in on-base percentage (.524) and runs scored (37); and first in total bases (88).
"Yes," Altman said with a grin when asked if he hits better as a second baseman, "and that's probably the reason why. Who knows? But it does take a lot of stress off your legs, and the mental game is easier, too. At catcher, you are in every play and you've got to hang on to every pitch."
The self-critical Altman calls his season an "up-and-down rollercoaster," but coach Fred Jordan appreciates the sacrifice Altman made for the team.
"He's had an outstanding year," Jordan said. "It's tough to go through this league four years and do what he's done. He had a tough start to the season, but recently he's been one of three or four leaders on this club, and we're glad he's back."
Despite hitting .368 a year ago, Altman did not join teammates Jones, Chris McGuiness, Wes Wrenn and Matt Crim in getting picked in the major league draft. Perhaps the versatility he's shown this season will help him in the draft next month.
"If someone does not give him a chance to play, it would be very sad," Jordan said. "He can play multiple positions, and he's a tremendous young man."