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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – At 5’9″, Stephen Klein is the shortest player on the Samford Bulldogs baseball team and considerably undersized as a first baseman.
But what he’s lacking in measurables is made up on the field. In the first 25 games of the season, the senior from Metairie, Louisiana, recorded a .365 batting average with 23 RBI and six doubles. Klein homered four times, driving in nine runs while going 10-for-13 from the plate In Samford’s first weekend of Southern Conference play at East Tennessee State from March 24-26.
“It’s rare that you go to that indoor hitting facility and he’s not in there hitting off of a cage or off of a tee or doing something to just go from being a really good player trying to become better,” Bulldog head coach Tony David said.
It’s clear Klein’s success this season is no fluke, but something years in the making. After batting .494 in his senior season at De La Salle High School, Klein continued swinging close to home, as he attended Delgado Community College in New Orleans. A two-time captain for the Dolphins, the left-handed batter put up a .419 in 2021. It was time for him to move up.
The summer of 2021 was an interesting time for NCAA Division I baseball. On July 1, Division 1 baseball student-athletes were granted the opportunity to transfer schools without having to sit out a season. With that, David said Samford suddenly needed a first baseman in what he called “the beginning of portal madness.”
So, David said he reached out to Delgado head coach Joe Scheuermann, who told him Klein would be a no-brainer for Samford. Klein then visited the Homewood campus and said he liked the area, facilities and the program’s winning history. He committed shortly afterwards.
“I thought it was a great spot for me to become a better player and move on to that next level, also,” Klein said.
David mentioned Klein was great defensively when he first took the field in a Bulldog uniform, however, his offensive numbers hadn’t caught up yet. Then, in its seventh game of the campaign, Samford took the field against then-No. 10 Florida State. Klein took the plate in the top of the 10th inning with the contest tied.
He singled through the left side to put the Bulldogs ahead, and that proved to be the game-winning hit in Samford’s 7-4 victory.
“I think it settled him in a little bit,” David said. “It was a big hit against their closure in a really big situation. I think that was a catalyst for him last year.”
Klein led the Bulldogs with a .331 batting average in 2022. He also registered 35 RBI, nine doubles and five home runs.
“I learned that it’s a long season, and you’re going to have ups and you have downs,” Klein said. “But as long as you stay consistent and keep your same approach, you’re going to be just fine.”
Following his success last season, Klein was selected to the 2023 Media Second Team All-SoCon Team in February. He’s continuing to keep up in the hitter’s league. Klein and fellow Bulldog Lucas Steele are tied for seventh in the Southern Conference in batting average.
The Louisianian’s glove is remaining steady. Klein’s fielding percentage is nearly perfect, as he’s committed one error compared to 610 put outs and 19 assists over his Samford career.
“He’s the best defensive first baseman I’ve been around or seen,” David said. “Not a lot of undersized great first basemen, but he picks everything. He’s a great defender. He’s vocal on the field. He’s an error saver for our other infielders out there with what he does on those low throws and how he navigates the bag.”
Though Klein is aspiring to move on to the professional ranks, he will have one more season of eligibility left after 2023 and hasn’t decided yet if he’ll use it. He said he’s gained 10 to 15 pounds since joining Samford, and David said consistency is the key for Klein to receive a chance at the next level.
Right now, the Bulldog slugger is focused on helping Samford reach its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2021. After winning two out of three at East Tennessee State, the Bulldogs will play host to The Citadel on Friday for their conference home-opener.
“I’m basically not changing anything,” Klein said. “Going up there, keeping the same mentality and not changing something because of the opponent we’re playing. So, just keep hitting the same way, fielding the same way, keeping everyone together because when times get rough, people can start to wander off, so you want to keep everybody as one.”