Monday, April 12, 2010 Updated: April 13, 11:48 AM ET
Georgia Tech's Yee hits by design
ATLANTA -- A materials and science engineering major at Georgia Tech, a place where that kind of field of study means a little something, Jen Yee shouldn't have much trouble finding work. It's a perfect match when one of this generation's best hitters wants to graduate from one of the best engineering schools in the country and start designing the next generation of bats.
Georgia Tech's Jen Yee is one of the generation's best hitters, so it's only fitting that upon graduation, she's interested in designing the next generation of bats.
Yet the imagination fails in trying to imagine what riches might await Yee if only she could mass-produce the traits no bat, no matter how exquisitely designed, can guarantee.
You might be able to swing the same bat as Yee, but few see what she sees at the plate.
"She just sees the ball so well; she sees it right out of the pitcher's hand," said Sharon Perkins, coach of sixth-ranked Georgia Tech. "She's pretty amazing with seeing the seams and seeing the ball out of the pitcher's hand, different grips and things like that -- knuckles and all kinds of different things. She's probably the most amazing hitter I've ever seen, ever had. She just picks it up so early, and she's able to get on time. I feel like she can get to any pitch."
With 14 games left in the regular season, Yee is hitting .577. She has recorded 102 official at-bats and come away with a hit 60 times. Her on-base percentage is .720, and she has struck out a grand total of two times. And all this from a hitter who comes no closer to slapping -- the favored technique of the occasional .500 hitter -- than slapping hands with teammates at home plate after hitting one of her 21 home runs.
And if you think that Perkins has a rooting interest in the debate or that the numbers aren't enough evidence, Virginia coach Eileen Schmidt added her endorsement when asked whether she has seen anyone better than the Yellow Jackets' redshirt senior star.
"No," Schmidt conceded. "That's not taking anything away from against [Arizona All-American Brittany] Lastrapes or the entire Michigan lineup. She's got the swagger that everybody wants."
Schmidt had just watched Yee deny her team a victory on the road by hitting a tying home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh that set the stage for teammate Kristine Priebe's walk-off home run in a 5-3 win. The Cavaliers didn't take the route many others have this season of intentionally walking Yee -- Maryland did it six times in one three-game series, including to lead off each game -- but Schmidt admitted that the Cavs also hadn't intended to come quite that close to the plate in the final at-bat.
It's how Yee keeps piling up numbers long after opponents stopped pitching to her, to the extent they ever did. Against Virginia, she saw a steady diet of outside pitches, occasionally nicking the corner of the strike zone but largely ensuring Yee would only get to first base with a walk instead of taking extra bases with a hit (of course, as if opponents needed further frustration, she also has stolen 15 bases in 16 attempts).
How many good pitches does she see on average?
"In an at-bat, maybe one -- in a 3-0 count, and I'm not going to swing 3-0," Yee said. "It's hard to create hits for yourself and to be ready to swing when you're getting so many balls, but I really have to get on myself and be focused and be ready for the mistake."
Watching Yee's swing, a sudden snap of violence interrupting her otherwise casual movements, it looks as if she could launch balls into the gap using a frying pan. But she's as interested in how bats do what they do as in showing off the end result. A native of British Columbia who sat out the 2008 college season to train with the Canadian Olympic team (she also spent her freshman season at Niagara University before she transferred to Georgia Tech), she'll spend her one remaining semester in Atlanta next fall working on a research project for the Canadian sporting goods company, Combat, running impact tests as part of a study geared at finding ways to prolong bat life.
Opponents have plenty of time to worry about Yee helping future hitters; right now, they're just glad Danielle Lawrie isn't the only Canadian who will be riding off into the sunset after this season.
"I'm glad she's gone," Schmidt offered.
Graham Hays covers softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.