Since joining the Bridgeport Bulls lineup as a freshman, Alex Samples has always had plenty of others to look up to.
Now a senior, the shortstop, pitcher and leadoff hitter is the elder statesman of the Bulls and undisputed leader of the young Bridgeport team that returned just three players from last year’s District 9-3A championship squad.
“It’s different,” Samples admits. “I’d been playing with those guys since middle school. Now, it’s just Dalton [Hudson] and me. It’s different but I’ve learned to take the leadership role. I have to be the guy to the lead the younger guys and set an example.”
Through the Bulls’ first 10 games, Samples is doing his part. He’s batting .417 with an on-base percentage of .533. He has seven extra-base hits, including a home run and five doubles.
“Alex has done a good job,” said Bridgeport coach Ted Leps. “He’s one of those guys that’s always going to have a decent approach at the plate and make the plays defensively. He does what we preach – consistency.”
Samples has thrown 13.2 innings but has yet to earn a decision in two outings.
“He does a good job of understanding what he can do on the mound,” Leps said. “He’s got three good pitches.”
With seven of last year’s starters gone, Samples says he has resisted the temptation to try to do too much.
“You can’t replace seven guys with one guy – that’s not possible,” Samples said. “There’s no replacing those seven guys.
“I tried coming in with the right mindset. I knew we were young. I’m not trying to do too much. I’ve got to make the routine plays.”
Leps said the shortstop did try to make some uncharacteristic plays in his first day back on the field this spring after an extended basketball game.
“That first day and first game, he tried to make some plays that were not there,” Leps said. “Since then he’s been solid.”
Playing with older players on 20-win teams the past three seasons, Samples said he learned a lot, especially how accepting they were when he was a freshman. He sees this as his chance to give back and return the favor to the next group of Bulls.
“We are young and I want to be part of building the program back,” he said. “If they make a huge run in the next few years, I can look back and say I was a part of that.”
Leps has seen Samples’ leadership, talking to players on the bench and setting the right example in the field.
“He helps guys with the approach to baseball,” he said. “It takes more than coaches to do that.
“When he was a freshman, he had guys to talk to him and help him. He’s now seen both ends.”
The Bulls entered the Princeton Tournament Thursday at 3-7. While it’s been a slow start, Samples’ expectations for the team has not changed.
“I love to win. I know we are not going to win every game, but I want to win,” Samples said.
A veteran who plays throughout the year on select teams, he knows the game has its ups and downs.
“Baseball is a lot of failure and a little success. You don’t get wrapped up in the failures. You have to enjoy the success.”
He hopes the Bulls can pull things together by district to make a playoff run. But even if the team falls short of the playoffs, his approach to every game, every at-bat and every pitch will remain the same.
“I’m enjoying my last season and playing each game like it’s my last – and play it like it’s a state championship,” Samples said.