Garrett Wittels’ Pursuit Of Historic Streak Not Just An Individual Accomplishment

What do New Mexico State head baseball coach Rocky Ward and the teammates of Florida International sophomore third baseman Garrett Wittels have in common? They’ve both been a part of historic hitting streaks. Ward was the catcher on the 1987 Oklahoma State squad when Robin Ventura set the collegiate record with 58 consecutive games with a hit while Wittels’ teammates are witness to the longest hitting streak since that historic 1987 season.
Wittels carries the second longest hitting streak in college baseball history, 54 games, into the first game of the Miami Regional in Coral Gables, Fla. today at 12:00 p.m. ET where he and his teammates will square off against Texas A&M. While most of the national media focuses on the Wittels’ individual accomplishment, New Mexico State head coach Rocky Ward explains that Wittels’ teammates are just as much a part of the streak as Wittels is.

“What sounds like an individual accomplishment is very much a team accomplishment. I will forever remember being involved with that streak because it’s not all about the player that does it,” said Ward in an interview with bleedCrimson.net. “The team around him has so much to do with his success and that’s what I enjoyed so much about being involved with Robin’s streak is you felt like you had responsibility for it.”
Wittels has had seven occasions during his current 54-game hitting streak in which he’s gone late into the game needing a hit to extend the streak and that’s where his teammates become invaluable. “Most hitting streaks have several opportunities where you’re oh-for going into your last at bat,” said Ward. “As you get closer the pressure mounts and it gets harder,” said Ward. “The biggest thing will not be whether or not he [Wittels] gets a hit. It’ll be whether his teammates are able to continue to give him opportunities.”

Ward remembers one game in particular during the streak where the Ventura’s nearly came to an end. “I remember specifically being in a game at Kansas and he [Ventura] was 0-for-4 and he made the last out in the top of the eighth inning and we were leading by six or eight,” recalls Ward. “We all knew in that dugout that Robin was 0-for-4 and we were leading the game but we had to turn the lineup over. We had to go score three or four more runs to get him another at bat, which we did, and he got a base hit and the streak continued. That was a specific time when I finally realized that this wasn’t just what Robin was doing it was about the fact that he needed us as a team to continue to give him those chances.”

For Ventura one of those teammates who kept giving him chances to extend the streak was Ray Ortiz. “Ray Ortiz was the kid who hit in front of Robin on that team and if I remember right, there were several occasions where Robin did not have a hit and Ortiz had to get a hit or had to get on base to give Robin a chance to continue the streak and he did it every time. Talk about pressure,” said Ward. “You’re not the one on the hitting streak, you’re not the hot one but you’re the one who has to get on base to give him the opportunity to continue the streak.”

So what does Ward, whose father and Hall of Fame coach Gary Ward was the head coach at Oklahoma State during Ventura’s streak and is now an assistant for him at New Mexico State, think about Wittels’ chances to break his old teammate’s record? “I’m rooting for the guy. Records are made to be broken,” said Ward.

So as today’s game unfolds in Coral Gables and college baseball fans around the country wait and watch to see if the streak will continue, remember that it is every bit as much about the Florida International team as it is about one player.

Sam Wasson covers New Mexico State athetics for bleedCrimson.net and is the WAC correspondent for The College Baseball Blog.