PIEDMONT — In a game of failures, Eli White was known around the Wren baseball team as that cool-headed player that never let anything rattle him, the one who recognized the game they were playing was meant to be fun, not a constant struggle.
It wasn’t always that way, though.
White, who is headed to Clemson after a banner senior year, played varsity as a freshman second-guessing himself and unable to deal with the rough swings of fortune the game presents.
“I was always a little bit of a head case, not being able to control my emotions, not being able to deal with failure,” White said.
That’s a far cry from how Hurricanes coach Randy Thompson tells it these days following a season where the senior shortstop, who was drafted in the 26th round by the Cincinnati Reds in last week’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, hit .418 with six home runs and a team-leading 33 RBI en route to Class 3A all-state and Region 1-3A Player of the Year honors.
“He always makes it a game. He never becomes too serious and that’s the reason he’s going to be successful,” Thompson said of White, who led Wren to a region championship and a district final, earning him Independent Mail Baseball Player of the Year honors.
“Eli has a way of getting rid of his emotion. Baseball is a very emotional game. Your failures and successes are so few and far between sometimes. Being able to control that is so important for a baseball player.”
Especially, at Doug Kingsmore Stadium where over 6,000 fans hungry for a return to the College World Series will be critiquing every his at-bat next season and beyond.
“He’ll handle it with a grain of salt,” Thompson said.
Whether it was the region title game at Greenville’s Fluor Field, a spring break tournament game against elite competition or a state tournament game, White never allowed himself to buy into how big of a game it was. Instead the heavy-hitting shortstop with great range in the field and a great arm that he doesn’t show off too often handled his business the same way each game — or in this season’s case, each pitch.
Wren players treated each pitch as its own separate challenge. When one challenge ended it was forgotten and another began.
“A lot of it is just maturity, just growing up and playing more as a teammate rather than feeling like I have to perform,” White said. “I couldn’t think that I have the whole team on my back. I’m just another piece of the puzzle.”
However, during a three-game stretch, when the Hurricanes weren’t playing their best baseball, White carried the load.
He finished with 17 RBI starting with the last game of the Blythewood Tournament when he had three RBI. Against West-Oak April 9 he hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and followed it up the next night against Walhalla with two bases-loaded doubles.
“It’s awesome to sit back and watch a kid when he’s that hot. It doesn’t matter who we’re facing, he’s going to come through,” Thompson said.
It’s that type of play Thompson expects to see from White at Clemson in the near future if he continues with the same approach.
“A big thing about baseball is just learning to focus,” White said. “You’ve got to take it one pitch at a time because I’m going to have terrible at-bats at Clemson. I’m going to need to be able to push that aside and go out into the field or and get over it before my next at-bat.”