June 14, 2013 11:54:42 AM
OMAHA, Neb. -- A year ago, Alex Detz knew where he was going to go to college.
After two successful years at Cuesta (Calif.) College, Detz was incredibly happy to get the opportunity to sign with Oregon State University, which was 784 miles from his home in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
"It was done," Detz said. "I get a better offer (in terms of scholarship money) from Mississippi State, and now I have a decision of loyalty along with intrigue of a place I'd never been versus overall happiness."
Detz then received a phone call from MSU junior shortstop Adam Frazier, who asked him to come to Starkville for an official visit. Frazier and Detz played summer league baseball together in 2011, and would've done it again in 2012 had Frazier not been selected to the Team USA collegiate team.
"I knew he was a really good player, I knew we had a spot available, and I knew he'd love it here," Frazier said. "I was the only person he knew here this fall, and he so easily adapted to everything. He needed to know I wanted him here at MSU."
Detz wasn't sure coming to MSU was best for him. But his parents, Toni and Gerry Detz, convinced Alex to go further away from home because it was going to help him on and off the playing field.
"I went to my dad and told him, 'I just don't think I want to go on this visit to Mississippi State because I've got this deal at Oregon State,' " Detz said. "He said, 'Look, they're paying for you fly out there and take a visit, so why not go see what they're about?' It was the best decision we made as a family. They are so happy for me, and they come down here often enough, I don't miss them so much."
When Detz arrived at MSU for his visit, every perception he had of Mississippi quickly went away. He met Roxanne McVey, a MSU volleyball player, almost immediately and she became his girlfriend. MSU coach John Cohen also said Detz was immediately accepted in the clubhouse.
"I'm not sure what my expectations were of Mississippi, the people, and the school, but my expectations were fulfilled and more," Detz said. "I guess I wasn't sure if they'd be so welcoming to a
person born and raised in California with a different perspective on things. The key is when you don't know anything about anybody here they are just as clueless about you, too."
Detz said he saw a lot of similarities in the campuses in Corvallis, Ore., and in Starkville. He said both are in small towns, so everything that happens at the schools are a bigger deal locally than anywhere else in the country.
MSU coach John Cohen, who was a letterman with the MSU baseball program from 1988-90, said getting junior college players and players who aren't from the area on campus is part of his coaching staff's recruiting plan. He said it is crucial for those students to see MSU's campus because the coaching staff believes it can convince players to come to Starkville once they see the facilities and passion of the program.
"That was a little bit of a challenge," Cohen said. "I think we had an advantage in I knew a lot of people that know him. His coach lived with me at the University of Missouri. Not to say that that had anything to do with his decision, but when people are vouching for a coaching staff, the more people you know, the better. I thought he'd be a tremendous fit for us."
Detz hit .324 with a .451 on-base percentage at Cuesta College in 2012 for coach Bob Miller, who is a good friend of Cohen and the rest of the MSU staff. At MSU, Detz has filled an instant need in the lineup as a fundamental No. 2 hitter behind Frazier and as a solid defensive players at the corner infield positions.
"He's not the best runner, he doesn't have best arm strength, he doesn't have the best range. He just has great baseball instincts and great feel," Cohen said. "He gets to first base a lot. We felt like it was a great mix for us."
The first thing Detz, who played shortstop and second base his entire career, was asked to do was to play first base for an injured Wes Rea in February and March. Rea was dealing with a severe quad injury and was having difficulty getting healthy in the cold weather, so Detz worked with MSU assistant coach Nick Mingione on his footwork at first base.
"I'd never even thought about playing first base, so that was interesting because I had to trust the coaches when they told me I wouldn't stink at it," Detz said. "Turns out it was a great learning experience because the footwork is so unique to any other position on the field."
Detz is a player the sabermetric community loves. Sabermetricians, who use objective evidence and statistics to chart in-game activity, value Detz's .457 on-base percentage, which leads MSU, just as much as his 52 walks, which are 18 more than the next highest MSU player. He also is third on the team in batting average (.323) and fifth on the team in RBIs (31). In 64 games (61 starts), he has committed only four errors and has a .984 fielding percentage.
Following Frazier in the batting order, Detz understands his responsibility is to make the pitcher throw a lot of pitches and to put the ball in play, especially if Frazier is on base.
"In terms of my approach at the plate, nothing changed," Detz said. "One of the pleasant surprises is the way I see the game, and the battle at the plate is what they teach here."
Detz, who also has seen playing time at designated hitter and third base, has tried to prove to professional scouts that all of his skills are still improving.
"I've always said Alex has that California cool in him, " Cohen said. "He doesn't look fast, but if you ask him to run 4.25 to first base, he can do it. You ask him to play first base for the first time in his life, he makes it look natural. You ask him to take our identity to the plate, he does it. That's the definition of being coachable."
It turns out MSU's first trip to the College World Series since 2007 will start at 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) with a game against No. 3 national seed Oregon State (50-11).
"It always works out that way doesn't it?" Detz said. "It would have to be Oregon State because that's just how life works."
The MSU coaches shouldn't count on Detz for any scouting material on the Beavers because he only knows third-year sophomore Tyler Painton.
"During my official visit to Oregon State, I had lunch with the head coach (Pat Casey), but that's the only time I ever saw him or spoke to him," Detz said. "It's closer to California, but I would've known anything about the same amount of people there that I did at Mississippi State. What's the difference?"
Even though he had to go nearly three times further away from home (2,118 miles) to go to school at MSU, Detz said he is enjoying being a Bulldog.
"I think everybody should have the same answer I do as long as they were definitive in their decision," Detz said. "I have no regrets, and knowing everything that happened, of course I would do everything the same way again."