UNC head coach Mike Fox admitted some players might take the foot off the gas pedal after producing like Bolt did in his freshman season. The Woodstock, Ga. native earned consensus All-America honors and a second-team All-ACC selection after batting .321 with 54 starts in right field in 2013.
“He came back this fall and he’s a really hard practice player,” Fox said. “I think that was my biggest thing with him, you’ve established yourself and now what am I going to get this fall. Sometimes you have some of those guys who just want to coast through the fall and just get to the spring after a long summer. I’ve said several times about Skye that he practices hard and he really wants to win.”
The Fall World Series illuminated the difference a year can make on the dynamic of a team. Bolt recalled the outlook he possessed just a season ago and the type of talented and senior-laden team that starred for the Tar Heels.
“Last year was a lot of talent and only nine spots on the field,” Bolt explained. “It was one of the hardest working teams that I’ve been a part of. I think that might have started with the seniors with (Chris) Munnelly and (Cody) Stubbs setting that example. It was a dangerous combination in that we had the talent and we had this inner competition to fill spots so naturally we gelled pretty well.”
The transition from a freshman working to add even more firepower to a talented team to taking a leadership role on a squad looking to find a new identity has completely changed the tide.
“The difference in last year and this year is the talent level,” Bolt said. “We don’t have, in my opinion, two or three or four possible first- or second-round guys, but we’ve got freshmen doing the exact opposite of last year and pushing the upper classmen. I know Trent (Thornton), (Korey) Dunbar, (Landon) Lassiter and I came in and pushed some guys in order to be in our spots, but as a whole, it’s a group of freshmen that are kind of pushing the rest of us.”
Bolt admitted the hardworking mentality of the freshmen has kept the returners focused on improving. The key is to lead by example, according to Bolt, and let the freshmen contributors understand that baseball is baseball.
“The number one thing I want them to understand is that it’s the same game we’ve been playing,” Bolt said. “You’ve got to slow the game down. It’s nothing different talent wise than what we’ve seen our entire lives. You’re going to have the addition of a thousand plus people in the stands watching you play. It’s the same game you’ve been playing your whole lives and hopefully they can continue to play at the level they were blessed to play with to get here.”
Along with the change in responsibility, Bolt will make the move to centerfield to replace the graduated Chaz Frank and return to his desired position on the diamond.
“Yeah, it’s always fun,” Bolt said. “I don’t like having to get called off. It’s free reign out there, I see the ball and I feel I’ve got the best seat in the house. It’s what I imagine baseball to be, sitting out in centerfield so I’m happy to be back out there.”
The move may be monumental as Bolt garnered high praise from Fox and his potential play for the Tar Heels in 2014.
“We talked to him about how talent and performance are two totally different things and we want him to perform,” Fox said. “He has the potential to be the best center fielder I’ve ever had here. He’s that good. It’s just a matter of keeping him healthy. He’s really work on hitting left handed, which he’s better right handed. He had a good fall for us. He’s healthy and looks good.”
The Tar Heels open the season Feb. 14 against College of Charleston.