Who’s on first? One quality newcomer

One of Missouri’s most productive hitters is not one of the usual suspects.
Friday, March 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:35 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Quick, name the Missouri baseball player third on the team in batting average, slugging percentage and RBIs and second in on-base percentage.

Third-year starter James Boone, who was third in average last year? Nope.

How about junior Zane Taylor, who started 87 games in his first two years? Sorry, try again.

The correct answer is first baseman Derek Chambers, a junior college transfer from Arkansas-Fort Smith. He has gained popularity quickly among his Tiger teammates.

“He came in here and he’s hitting better than anybody,” Boone said. “He plays really hard, he plays a really good first base, he’s solid defensively and he does smash the ball.”

Chambers has either scored a run or gotten an RBI in each of the Tigers’ first nine games. A good start is rare for a player in his first year of Division I baseball, but coach Tim Jamieson said that it doesn’t surprise him in Chambers’ case.

“It usually takes them a little while to adjust to Division I pitching,” Jamieson said. “The thing about Derek is his approach is so solid, and he’s a good hitter, but he’s also made it simple for himself. He’s a great team guy in the lineup, and that doesn’t surprise me based on Derek’s approach.”

Chambers is quick to deflect any focus on his individual success.

“I’ve been working hard all fall, but everybody’s been working hard,” Chambers said. “Before it’s all said and done, we’re all hitting the ball. It’s just that I’ve had some hits fall that other guys haven’t.”

Chambers, who is hitting .394 with a home run and nine RBIs, has good offensive numbers, but he has been solid at a crucial defensive position as well. He has made one error in 94 fielding attempts.

“That’s huge,” Boone said. “At first base, that saves you runs. They get a lot of touches and he gets a lot of opportunities to dig balls and saves our positions from errors.”

Defense has played a big role so far this season for the Tigers (6-3). MU errors led to three Winthrop runs in a 7-4 loss Feb. 17 and two Memphis runs in a 7-6 loss Sunday. In their most recent game, the Tigers committed five errors, resulting in five unearned runs, in a 6-5 loss to Murray State on Monday.

“We’re 6-0 when we play good defense,” Jamieson said. “We’re 0-3 when we play so-so or below standards.”

The Tigers have a chance to break their two-game losing streak in a weekend series against Eastern Michigan starting with tonight’s home opener at 6:30 at Taylor Stadium.

The teams decided to add a game to their originally scheduled three-game set and will play a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. Saturday. The final game will be at noon Sunday.

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