Baseball Player of the Year: Salisbury’s Robbie Ijames
By Mike London
Ledford finally figured out the smartest way to pitch to Salisbury shortstop Robbie Ijames.
Walk him. Walk him every time.
Ijames’ 0-for-0 boxscore in a 3-2 victory against Ledford was one of his three hitless games this season.
The right-handed hitting junior produced multiple base hits in 16 of the Hornets’ 25 outings and finished with a 9-for-15 rampage in the postseason.
Ijames batted .548 and is the first player in Rowan County to top .500 since North’s Aaron Rimer hit .507 in 2001.
Ijames also hit nine home runs, most in the county since West’s Seth Waller walloped nine in 2003.
When you lead the county in homers and batting average, throw in 21 stolen bases, make the plays at shortstop and contribute two wins on the mound, that’s a hard combination to beat.
“Our scouting report on Robbie was ‘hits to all fields, great speed, will bunt, home run power,’ ” Ledford coach Chris Adams said.
“That means he brought a lot to the table. He’s a complete player and he could beat you with a bunt or a home run. He’s a disciplined hitter and wouldn’t chase bad pitches, so we just started giving him those unintentional intentional walks.”
This was the Year of the Mustang. East won 29 games with one of the best teams in county history.
Justin Roland, Micah Jarrett, Corbin Shive and Zach Smith all had seasons worthy of consideration for Rowan County Player of the year.
Especially, Roland, a slick shortstop who scored 42 runs, stole 26 bases and also went 6-0 on the mound, with three playoff victories.
But Ijames, who led Salisbury to its first league title in 24 seasons, is the Post’s pick and will receive the Mark Norris Award, which is provided annually by the family of a Salisbury athlete who died in an auto accident.
The award began in 1978 and honored Salisbury’s baseball MVP. Since 1983, the Mark Norris Award has been presented to the Rowan County Player of the Year.
“This is a great accomplishment,” Ijames said. “There are a lot of talented kids in Rowan County, so I’m sort of proud of myself. ‘This year was fun, but I want to keep improving every year.”
Salisbury coach Scott Maddox can talk all day about how far Ijames has come and how far he can go.
Ijames hit .253 as a varsity freshman ó with no power. The memory of his struggles in 2006 still motivate him, and he doesn’t mind sharing stories with younger teammates who are having a tough time.
“He’ll tell them he stunk his freshman year,” Maddox said. “That makes them think maybe things will turn out all right.”
Ijames started to figure things out as a sophomore when he hit .400 with 17 steals, but he still didn’t homer until the playoffs.
The power kicked in this season. Part of it was growth and maturity. Part of it, Ijames attributes to Salisbury’s new BP techniques.
Whatever happened, he was unstoppable, reaching base 70 percent of the time in CCC games and driving in 27 runs.
“Robbie’s a kid that broods if he goes 4-for-5 and the team loses, and he’s fine if the team wins and he goes O-fer,” Maddox said. “A kid like that isn’t hard to coach.”
Obviously, Ijames didn’t have many O-fers, and he didn’t get frustrated as the walks accumulated.
“He looked at every walk as an opportunity for a double,” Maddox said. “And the way he can run, more often that not, it was.”
Ijames opened the season hitting fifth in the lineup and ended it batting second where his speed would be more of a factor.
He went 3-for-3 with two homers against Central Davidson in Salisbury’s CCC opener, stole three bases in a victory over West Davidson and was 4-for-4 with three runs scored in a 5-4 loss to West Stanly.
He allowed two hits and no runs while pitching into the sixth inning against East Davidson, and he was 6-for-8 at the plate in the CCC tournament.
There were no slumps and few off nights.
“Everyone knew Robbie could hit,” Maddox said. “The surprise was the way he played shortstop after we moved him from the outfield. He made three errors, and two were in one game, so that’s a lot of games of errorless ball. I didn’t think a defensive performance like that was possible.”
Adams was one of Ijames’ many admirers.
“Honestly, I didn’t see it coming when Robbie was a young player, and he’s worked his tail off to get to where he is now,” he said. “He makes nice plays at short, and offensively, he does the little things and the big things. Someone who can run and still hit the ball out of the park like he can changes the complexion of every game.”
Ijames has been pushed daily by his brother, David, a junior center fielder, for the last three seasons.
David batted .461 with four homers, 27 RBIs and 19 steals to earn an all-county berth of his own. The healthy sibling rivalry figures to continue on their Salisbury High Palomino team this summer and throughout their senior year.
Robbie has no plans to rest on his laurels and would love to be the first repeat Norris Award winner since North’s Daniel Moore in 1999-2000.
He realistically could finish his career with 150 hits. To put that number in perspective, East shortstop Cal Hayes Jr., one of the all-time best in the county, had 129.
Just minutes after Wednesday’s all-county photo shoot was completed, Robbie traded his shiny uniform for an old T-shirt and headed to the cages for a round of batting practice with his father.
There’s only one way to stop him from hitting.
Walk him. Walk him every time.
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.