The moment of comfort at the plate finally came for Michael Fransoso as the last few weeks of the season unfolded.
He felt himself getting in that sometimes mysterious zone, where everything was feeling right at the plate. His swing felt more natural. He had a string of home runs over a few games. But it all came to a halt, when a virus hit him hard. Fransoso and other teammates were plagued by flu-like symptoms, but he was particularly affected. He wound up in the emergency room, unable to eat or drink fluids for several days, and when all was said and done, he'd lost eighteen pounds. Eventually, he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection in his lungs. Recovery was slow, but the illness essentially ended what had been a promising season to that point.
"I learned a lot professionally, this year, both on and off the field," he said Monday afternoon. "But once that happened, there was nothing I could do. So I hung around the guys as much as I could. I really tried to just keep my spirits up."
Fransoso needed to keep his spirits up when the season kicked off with difficulty. He struggled at the plate, and, according to him, with issues off the field as well. In 74 games between the New York Penn League and South Atlantic league, 58 of them in the SAL, he hit .248/.357/.390. He got sent back to extended spring training, then found himself back in the NYPL with the Jamestown Jammers, where his professional career began in 2013, after being drafted by the Pirates in the 27th round out of the University of Maine.
Despite his disappointment in response to the demotion, Fransoso embraced the lesson before him.
"I had a lot going through my head. The coach's just told me to take the positives out of the situation and to just try to work on things. I did that as much as possible. I also took the opportunity to help out the younger guys with what I learned from the first year. I got a lot of confidence back."
Part of the struggle, he believes, was in the other challenge he had to face: learning the outfield. Fransoso played second base and shortstop his whole life (he was drafted as a shortstop) but the West Virginia Power had a need, and called on him to fill it.
"In the first series of the year, two of our outfielders got hurt. So I was asked to play in right field. Things got a lot better. Everything started to flow. I was thrown into the outfield and leadoff spot, and it all started to fall into place."
This off-season, he's focused on strengthening further and adding more weight to his 6-0 180 pound frame, but his discussions with the Pirates enlightened him about what more they believe he's capable of.
"I guess they saw some of the home runs and feel there's more potential for power. I'm still going to be trying to hit the ball the other way, but also drive the ball, hit the ball in the gap for some power, keep my hands inside."
After all the obstacles, the tough outfield transition, the hitting and personal struggles, and battling his own body, Fransoso has a singular focus heading into 2015, inspired by the positive results before his season abruptly ended.
You can follow Michael Fransoso on Twitter @M_Fransoso