Outfielder Jacob Crum credits hitting streak to newfound approach, fun in dugout


Central Michigan outfielder Jacob Crum throws the ball at practice at Turf Bay on Feb. 27 in the Indoor Athletic Complex.

Jacob Crum battered 12 home runs as a sophomore at Lansing Community College in 2017, which helped solidify his transfer to Central Michigan for his junior season.

In the 2018 campaign, he made 55 starts for former coach Steve Jaksa and was unable to get the ball over the fence. Zero home runs.

New coach Jordan Bischel has brought a new-look approach at the plate for the Chippewas, and it's paying off for Crum. Instead of playing small-ball, the senior is instructed to drive the baseball into the gaps and use power to his advantage.

The result – two home runs in 10 games, along with six doubles and two triples.

"This year, we are looking for pitches we can drive early in the count," Crum said. "We split the field into thirds and attack gap to gap. That's what has changed."

Crum is second on the team, behind only Zach Gilles, with a .378 batting average. His slugging percentage, .811, paces CMU.

Bischel, succeeding his hire to take over for Jaksa, brought hitting coach Tony Jandron with him from Division II Northwood University. Immediately, Bischel's staff implemented a new approach to "free up" players at the plate.

The Chippewas have smashed eight homers in 10 games, compared to a meager 12 in 60 games a season ago.

"Jake has a ton of bat speed," Bischel said. "He was excited when we brought our hitting approach. He's embraced it and has a ton of confidence. 

"He's our most athletic and explosive players, and he's just finding his groove."

Going deep, twice

With Evan Kratt, Jason Sullivan and Griffin Lockwood-Powell eyeing home plate, Crum sent a missile over the left field fence for a grand slam – his first-career homer at CMU. It came in the top of the first inning off Prairie View A&M right-hander Derrick Curry, who was chased after 5 2/3 innings of work.

"I got the monkey off my back, and then hit another one during that weekend," Crum said. "I just got to keep it going."

The second came against just one day later, Feb. 24, in the Cardinal Classic finale at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Texas.

Crum, in the second inning against Lamar, went opposite field for a three-run blast, scoring Zach Gillies and Sullivan for an early 3-0 edge against the Cardinals, who featured left-hander Grason Wright on the bump.

"Honestly, I've been getting deep in counts with two strikes, trying to see the ball deeper and use the right-center gap," Crum said. "Sometimes I do try to get pull happy, so just trying to stay through the ball."

Fun translates to contagious winning

The message from Bischel to Crum is simple: "Don't bunt."

Crum cracked a smile, understanding that's how Bischel operates. Obviously, Crum won't be called on to bunt. In the past, he might have been. But not now, and definitely not while playing for Bischel.

It's the lighthearted fun between the coaching staff and players that serves as the catalyst for CMU's 7-3 record and a seven-game winning streak from Feb. 16 to March 2. 

CMU even keeps a toy chicken in the dugout to wave throughout the air in celebration and for good luck. The whole point is a hard-nosed attempt to bring the excitement back into the program, an unknown entity in recent seasons.

"If you take it to seriously, it'll eat you alive," Crum said. "When you start having fun, it minimizes failure. Failure is a part of this game, so if you minimize failure, then you'll have a greater chance of success.

"Guys are buying into that."