For Marlins leftfielder Chris Coghlan, it's a bit more difficult to stay under the radar.
Coghlan, 24, an East Lake High product, has been garnering added attention since winning National League rookie of the year. Autograph seekers have popped up everywhere from a Louisville, Ky., airport to the Marlins clubhouse; Coghlan said he was honored the most when teammate Tim Wood bought his jersey and asked him to sign it.
"That's very humbling," he said.
But so is baseball, which is why Coghlan is determined to prove his impressive rookie season was no fluke. Coghlan (pronounced COG-lan) may be penciled into the starting lineup and leadoff spot, where he will bat today against the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park, but he's still "training like I need to earn a job" for opening day.
"When the season ended, you look back and go, 'Wow, that was crazy,' " he said. "It's amazing that it happened, I would have never thought that it would. But at the same time it's about this year, 2010. That was last year. You can't win the award twice."
Many Rays fans probably remember Coghlan from his hard slide into second base in May that led to Akinori Iwamura needing left-knee surgery. But Coghlan left his mark in other ways, leading all major-league rookies last season in hitting (.321), runs (84), hits (162), total bases (232) and on-base percentage (.390).
He did all this despite spending the first month in the minors, batting leadoff for the first time and adjusting to a new position. Coghlan came up a second baseman but welcomed the switch to leftfield.
"I think we all knew he was going to be able to hit — he was a good offensive player," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But everybody was kind of skeptical a little bit of how well he'd pick up the leftfield position. We used to take him out the first month of the year for (a defensive replacement), but he got to the point where he was one of the better leftfielders in the National League."
Coghlan said there's still room to improve, including his route-running and approach at the plate, where he's excited to set the table for teammates.
"I look at it as, I'm the first one up, I'm the igniter of the team," he said. "I feel I need to bring a presence to every game to show the other guys behind me my intensity, that I'm ready to go."
Gonzalez acknowledges there will likely be adjustments made by the league's pitchers, as well as from Coghlan himself. When asked what the Palm Harbor native needed to do better, Gonzalez smiled.
"Shoot, I'll take those numbers (again)," he said. "He doesn't need to improve any of those numbers."
And, autographs aside, Coghlan said, "I don't think I've changed in any way."
"I think there's changing as far as people noticing me or treating me, and there's definitely a battle of trying to stay humble in the game and dealing with the different successes and failures," he said. "It's different this year, for sure, but I tell people all the time, 'Nothing is guaranteed in this game. Anything can happen.' "
Coghlan's rookie year was proof of that.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]s.com.