Most pitchers like to avoid line-drive hitters like Wade Boggs, who is consistently able to steer the ball where either an infielder can't quite reach it or an outfielder can't quite catch up to it.
Hitting for the Boston Red Sox third baseman is as natural as swimming is for a fish, smiling is for a politician, or flag-making was for Betsy Ross. At the moment, his .372 batting average is second in the majors only to Rod Carew's . 441 mark.
Last year as a rookie Boggs hit .349, but although that was the highest average in the American League, he didn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for the title.
In fact, Wade never had a regular position in 1982 except for a stretch during mid-season when third baseman Carney Lans-ford was injured. He wound up playing 49 games at first base and 44 at third.
During the winter Boston opened a permanent spot for Wade in its infield, however, by trading Lansford to Oakland. ''Boggs, in the way he adjusts to different pitchers at the plate, is a lot like Carew,'' said Red Sox batting coach Walt Hriniak. ''But he also reminds me a lot of Hall of Famer Luke Appling , an old-timer who used to purposely foul off pitch after pitch until he got the kind of delivery he wanted. Believe me, you don't do something like that unless you have confidence in yourself and tremendous bat control.
''Boggs also reminds me of Appling and the way he nearly always hits the ball to the opposite field instead of trying to pull everything. The way he is able to radar balls just inside the foul line is so similar that it's scary.''
When Boggs took over for the injured Lansford last June, the first two balls hit to him went right through his legs. While something like that can give a kid a reputation he doesn't deserve, Wade put weedkiller on that notion by making only six more errors the rest of the season. Anyway, he is not the kind of infielder who causes the manager to look at the dugout floor every time a ball is hit his way.
Asked about his ability to take advantage of an infielder who is leaning the wrong way or an outfielder who gets careless about guarding the line, Boggs doesn't go into specifics. He just lets you know that ever since Little League he's never seen a pitcher whose stuff he didn't like.
''I've always felt I could hit any pitcher at any time, and when you have that kind of success early in your career, I think it can really establish your confidence,'' Wade told me.
''Since no two pitchers work exactly the same, it doesn't make sense to hit the same way all the time either. I shift around a lot at the plate, sometimes between every pitch, but I do it so subtly that no one but me would probably notice it.''
As for his predilection for going to the opposite field, he said he gets pitched outside so often that it's only good sense to go down the left-field line much of the time.''But if I get a pitch out over the plate that I can pull, then I'll go to right field with it,'' he said. ''The point is you don't fight pitchers, you try to take advantage of them.''
Boggs said Ted Williams, who still helps the Red Sox as a spring training batting instructor, has talked to him about shifting his weight at the plate in certain situations, plus the importance of maintaining good balance and swinging through the ball.
''If Boggs doesn't hit for you today, then you always feel he's going to hit for you tomorrow,'' said Jack Rogers, a longtime club executive. ''Where some hitters become defensive with two strikes, Wade stays aggressive, yet he almost never strikes out.''
''So far, Boggs hasn't hit with power for us and maybe he prefers it that way ,'' Rogers observed, ''but in batting practice, he'll hit the ball as far as Jim Rice.''
Maybe the reason Boggs is clicking so often at the plate is because he's always clucking at the dinner table. Wade likes to eat chicken so regularly that his wife, Deborah, is constantly on the lookout for new recipes. So far she has discovered 30 or so different ways to prepare her husband's favorite dish, but she says she could still use a few more.
So send your recipes to Wade Boggs in care of the Boston Red Sox, 24 Yawkey Way, Boston, Mass. 02215