BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Sean Gusrang was an infielder by trade.
Until last season, that is.
Gusrang switched to right field in order to crack the Traverse City Beach Bums lineup and the move paid dividends — for himself and the team.
The 23-year-old had a breakout season, hitting .266 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs.
“I had never played outfield until last year,” the former Seton Hall player said. “When Banger (manager Gregg Langbehn) asked if I could play out there, I said, ‘Of course.’ I wasn’t going to say no. It was fun. I welcomed the challenge. I just like to play. It doesn’t matter where I’m at. Luckily, it worked for everybody.”
Gusrang played sparingly in 2011 once he joined the team in mid-season after his college career ended.
“I knew coming in that first year I probably wasn’t going to get a lot of playing time,” he said. “There were older players, good players ahead of me. I was pretty excited last year to come in and compete for a spot. I just took it from there. That’s what everybody does — look for opportunity. You have to produce when you get that chance.”
He did, providing the Beach Bums with a lethal bat in the bottom third of the order. His 15 homers tied him for 10th in the Frontier League. Additionally, he was hit by 18 pitches and he walked 53 times, resulting in a .406 on-base percentage that was also 10th in the league.
Gusrang proved steady in the field, too.
“He did a good job for us last season,” Langbehn said. “And he’s looked good out there this spring. Honestly, you can put him anywhere. It’s a credit to him. It was a situation last year where we couldn’t keep him out of the lineup.”
Gusrang and Jeff Flagg manned right field. Flagg also spelled Chase Burch at first base. All three took turns at DH, too, and were all big run producers. Altogether, Gusrang played in 86 games.
Flagg is not on the team this season, leaving the job strictly to Gusrang, right?
Well, that where his versatility comes into play.
“He’s been at second, short, third, left and right this spring,” Langbehn said. “And he has a strong background at first. But he’ll primarily play in the outfield.”
With a year under his belt, Gusrang said he’s more confident playing in the outfield now.
“It’s a little more comforting knowing I played there last year and that I have the ability to do well out there — not just play but play at a high level,” he said. “I take pride in being able to play anywhere and being able to adjust. I was able to do that fairly quickly when I was out there every day.”
Gusrang said one of the biggest adjustments is staying mentally focused at all times.
“You have to get used to having more down time than you have in the infield,” he said. “Sometimes there’s not a lot of action out there.”
As for his power numbers, Gusrang admits the 15 homers were somewhat of a surprise since he hit eight in 168 games in college.
“My college field was one of the biggest in the country so there were not many homers there,” he said. “But I worked hard with (hitting coach) Shannon Hunt last year and that really helped, understanding how to use my body more, how to use my legs more.
“The power numbers were a little bit of a surprise. I didn’t go up there looking for a home run. I was just looking for a good pitch to hit — and I got 15 good ones.”