By Emily Fedewa, GoHeels.com
In baseball, the best hitters are those that can keep an at-bat going by fouling off pitches before honing in on the best one.
It's an especially important trait for a player on the Carolina baseball team - a team that works hard to limit strikeouts and maximize at-bats. Outfielder Skye Bolt fit well into that system before a foul ball to the foot forced him to the bench last spring.
Bolt joined the North Carolina baseball team for the 2012-13 season as a freshman possessing great promise - and he did not disappoint.
In his first two games as a Tar Heel, Bolt went 6 for 8, scoring a run and racking up three RBI, and by the third game he was batting clean-up for the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
Throughout the beginning of the season, Bolt lived up to his name - he was electric. Hitting .392 while knocking six home runs, 10 doubles and slugging a team-high .648, he was a big part of Carolina's explosive offense early on.
"I was happy to be able to come in and have the impact that I did, looking back on it," Bolt said. "Confidence-wise, I felt like I could do it, and I just played it game to game and continued to produce and was lucky enough to have the first half of the year that I did."
But on April 14th a foul ball carrying all the force of Bolt's powerful swing connected with the his right foot, fracturing a metatarsal and sidelining him for a month.
When he returned, he wasn't quite the same player he had been prior to the injury. Bolt pointed to the mental effect that taking a month off had on him as the reason for his slower end to the season.
"You have to get your physical reps when you're out on injury, but the toughest part is getting your mental reps," Bolt said. "And for me that was the adjustment that I had to make, and struggled to make, for the time remaining. It was that part of the game, the mental part, more so than the physical (that affected me)."
Bolt has had a summer and fall to get himself back into a mental position to provide a spark to a Carolina offense that lost a big part of its production in this year's MLB draft.
This year's Fall World Series was a great place to show his return to that five-tool player of early 2013, and that's exactly what Bolt did.
Under the lights he hit .423 and once again claimed a team high slugging percentage of .692, showing that he could duplicate last season's early success.
"Skye was at a different level this fall," Carolina baseball head coach Mike Fox said of Bolt's fall showing. "You can tell he's healthy, and I thought he had a great fall, he played great. He's a special talent."
Bolt used the lessons from his injury as well as those from his summer work to dominate the baseball team's main attraction of the fall. He stroked 11 hits over the six games, including two doubles, a triple and a home run while driving in nine runs.
"I feel really good up at the plate," Bolt said. "The real kicker with separating yourself and continuing to get better year to year is developing a swing that you're comfortable with.
"So in the summer and this whole fall, I've just been working on staying behind the baseball and letting my hands work, and I think it's proven a little more power for me as well."
Hard work is important in any sport, but confidence, Bolt believes, goes a long way in baseball. It's that confidence that has propelled him through the mental and physical hurdles of the past year to get him back to the level of performance he's capable of.
He said he knows he toes the line between confidence and arrogance, but he's not blind to the areas of his game that still need work and he won't let anything stop him from improving.
"I know what my weaknesses are, I know where I have holes, and I know what part of the game I need to sharpen up and continue to get better at," Bolt said. "It's a personal pride that any athlete has, I just want to get better. I want to get better and better and you can't let outside influences affect what you want to become."
Even the influences of a foul ball.