June 20, 2013 10:39:09 AM
OMAHA, Neb. -- Brett Pirtle can thank his father, Mike, for getting a scholarship offer from the Mississippi State University baseball team.
If it wasn't for the classic American story of a father teaching his son in the batting cage, MSU might not have had a need for the Tyler, Texas, native.
The timing was right last summer, though, when MSU coach John Cohen went looking for a fundamentally sound, switch-hitting infielder and found what he needed in a .222 hitter at Panola (Texas) College.
"Brett Pirtle is somebody who's kind of emerged as the guy whose entire game probably puts him in the forefront," Cohen said. "He played like a coach's son that fit our identity (and) what we like to do at the plate and on the bases."
While playing on the Robert E. Lee High School team coached by his dad, the left-handed hitting Pirtle began to work on switch-hitting as a 10th-grader.
"I started fooling around with it in practice before my dad finally told me I was ready to use it in a game," Pirtle said.
Pirtle, who plays second base, didn't hit right-handed until the 11th grade, which is a late age for someone to try to switch hit, but his father, who switch hit in the minor leagues and in college, helped Brett learn the basics very quickly.
"I felt like I was starting to learn this thing way too late because you have to get adjusted to everything that is physically and mentally different," Pirtle said. "From your feet to where you're looking to take a pitch in the box, it is just so different. If I would've started it in eighth or ninth grade, I feel I would've been much more proficient at it as a high school upperclassmen."
In 12 years at Lee High, Mike Pirtle led the Red Raiders to a 487-217-6 record. The team reached the playoffs 11 consecutive years, captured five district championships, and reached the regional semifinals in three of his last six seasons. More than 60 players from the school went on to play baseball in college. Mike Pirtle, who was head coach at Oak Ridge High in Conroe, Texas, this past season, is a member of the East Texas Baseball Hall of Honor.
Brett Pirtle is carrying on his father's switch-hitting tradition. Older brothers Drew and Tyler played Division I college baseball at Dallas Baptist University and Vanderbilt University, respectively.
"I go in with the same mentality no matter what box I'm in, but I'm more of a slap hitter from the left side and I really try to drive the baseball in the gaps from the right side," Pirtle said
Pirtle received a scholarship offer after MSU coaches saw him hit .314 last summer for the Hoptown Hoppers of the Ohio Valley League, a wood-bat league. This year, he has transformed into a versatile contributor in the cleanup spot behind first-round draft pick Hunter Renfroe. Pirtle is fourth on the team with a .309 average, and has reached base 41 straight games.
"There are a number of players every year that go off in the summer and find their way, not only find out what type of player they are," Cohen said. "As a coach, you always go back to what worked as a player, and Ron Polk sent me to Alaska in the summer and I learned a lot about myself on and off the field."
The 5-foot-9, 176-pound junior has quick hands in the middle of the diamond, and has been a part of 42 of the Bulldogs' school-record 77 double plays.
"I think everything except batting in the four hole is something I expected, not only from myself but from my team," Pirtle said. "I came to Mississippi State for the chance to play in Omaha, and I expected myself to earn the job at second base."
MSU (50-18) will try to advance to the College World Series' best-of-three championship series for the first time at 2 p.m. Friday (ESPN) when it faces Oregon State University, which eliminated Indiana University 1-0 on Wednesday. It was the first 1-0 game at the CWS since 1985. MSU defeated OSU 5-4 in the opening game of the tournament, but the Beavers have won two games in a row to stay alive. OSU must beat MSU on Friday and Saturday to advance to the title series, which starts Monday.
Cohen hopes Pirtle's performance will help the Bulldogs attract more recruits from outside the Southeast.
"We will always recruit from the inside out, meaning the Southeastern part of the country such as Mississippi and Alabama will always be our major focus," Cohen said. "However, we understand two things about recruiting at MSU. One is geography. It's hard to recruit to Starkville because it's just not easy to get to the campus. Also, we recognize and can only hope for the bump that happens when a program gets to Omaha and is on that national stage."
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