Baseball is a numbers a game. Its statistics are meticulously measured in deciding lineup placement and studied to evaluate post-game success.
But there are the intangibles.
For these, there are no complex formulas or methodologies to calculate and project achievement. Great ballplayers have both.
As a .362 hitter and commander behind the plate, Sam Houston State senior catcher Anthony Azar fits the mold of both, earning him Southland Conference Hitter of the Week on March 17 and April 14 as well as the designation as the team's "rock" from head coach David Pierce.
“His preparation every day for the game is better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” senior Luke Plucheck said. “He has to handle not just offense and defense as a catcher but he’s required to know every pitcher on the staff and what they’re capable of. It doesn’t matter who steps in the box or on the mound for us, he knows what needs to be done and I think he’s better than anybody at that.”
A product of The Woodlands, Azar’s numbers speak loudly ranking him in the top-5 in the Southland Conference in batting and a tie for first in throwing out runners as a catcher. Just don’t expect him to talk much about it – or much else for that matter.
”Azar’s never been a big talker but a lot of people joke that I make up for it so that’s probably why we’re really good friends,” Plucheck said. “He leads by pure example. When things need to be said he’ll say it. As long as I can remember he’s been quiet. He does his thing and everyone follows along.”
Plucheck, a Tomball native, has known Azar since age 12 and the two competed against one another as part of the heated Tomball-Woodlands rivalry.
“As soon as he stepped on campus, I knew what he was capable of,” Plucheck said of helping recruit Azar. “I knew he would help us out. When he got here, I said, ‘there’s no doubt you’re signing here. Don’t even think about trying to go somewhere else.’”
As it turned out, Azar was offered and transferred to Sam Houston from Texarkana Junior College where he hit .328 during the 2011 season. Ironically, it would be at the same time SHSU junior pitcher Tyler Eppler was entering the Texarkana program.
“I heard about him when I was at Texarkana playing how we had lost one of our best catchers who was going to Sam Houston,” Eppler said. “Whenever I got an offer here, it was like ‘why not take that?’ You’ve got a guy who used to catch at your old school and now he’s going to be there. You’ve heard so many stories about him and now I get to see how good he really is.”
Azar’s offensive output has helped place him on the map but for senior relief pitcher Alan Scott, it’s his other duties as a catcher that separate him from the rest.
“For me, because I’m light-hearted and joking around when I come in, he knows to be that way,” Scott said. “Other guys are more serious and he knows how to handle us. He knows each reliever and each starter and he plays off really the pitcher’s emotion and how they handle the game.”
No moment exemplified the squad’s belief in Azar more than in a Sunday road matchup against Oral Roberts. Trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning of a pivotal series deciding game, the Bearkats’ silent leader stood at the plate with runners on first and second and a 3-0 count looking to make some noise.
As Azar peered down the third base line for the presumed ‘take’ signal, the senior was given the green light and make it count, cranking the pitch out of the park – his seventh of the year, placing him second in the Southland in the category and more importantly giving SHSU the go-ahead runs in the win.
“He’s a great leader,” Eppler said. “You talk about a guy that leads by example, he’s one of the best. He doesn’t talk that much but whenever you want to follow a guy you just look at what he’s doing.”
Whether he tells you or not, the Bearkats’ soft-spoken catcher has played an intricat role in the Kats’ success including back-to-back Southland Conference championships, something his teammates aren’t hesitant about saying.
“He’s a hard worker, he’s an incredible baseball player and his baseball instincts are better than a lot of catcher’s in the country,” Plucheck said. “I wouldn’t want to have anyone else behind the plate on a team I’m playing for than Anthony Azar.”
Azar and his teammates have a little more than a month left in the 2014 season as the Bearkats seek their third consecutive Southland Conference title and NCAA berth.
Sam Houston has three Southland weekend series remaining at Don Sanders Stadium, playing host to Southeastern Louisiana April 25-27, Stephen F. Austin May 2-4 and A&M-Corpus Christi May 15-17.
The annual Southland post-season tournament, which decides the league’s automatic NCAA berth, will be held May 21-24 in Conway, Arkansas.