Man on a mission|Whitehead looks to get Pirates back to playoffs

Published 10:16 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

By By BRIAN HAINES,, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Trent Whitehead is heading into his final season swinging for the fences. After a disappointing 2009 season where the Pirates finished with a 32-27 record and missed the postseason for the first time since 2006, the East Carolina outfielder is on a mission to help bring his team back to playoffs and beyond.
In 2009 ECU had one of it finest baseball season’s ever as it advanced all the way to the Super Regional round of the NCAA tournament. In 2010 the expectations where lofty for the Pirates as they headed into the season but off field distractions, coupled with an inconsistent defense, became too much for the team to overcome.
Personal success was not a problem for Whitehead, who was recently named to the all-Conference USA preseason team, as the sweet-swinging lefty hit .331 while driving in 31 runs in 2010. While Whitehead’s list of individual achievements reads on like War and Peace, going to Omaha for the College World Series is not on there. However, the former Washington High School standout would like to change that before he graduates.
“This is my senior year, it’ my last shot at college baseball and I want to play in Omaha,” Whitehead said at the team’s media day. “That’s the only thing I really want to do.”
Whitehead heads into the team’s Feb. 18 season opener against Youngstown State needing 92 hits to pass Steve Salargo as the Pirates all-time hits leader, but said that an overly successful winning season would bring him the most joy.
“I would love it. Nothing would make me happier. Like I said, it is my last year and East Carolina has never been to the College World Series and if I could go out my senior year going to Omaha then that would be memory that would stick with me the rest of my life.”
One memory that has lasted a while belongs to ECU coach Billy Godwin, who can still recall signing the hard-hitting Pam Pack star.
“I recruited Trent, I remember it vividly,” Godwin said. “We had heard about this kid from Washington and he had come to one of our camps – I sign very few kids from at our camps. Usually we see kids we like and ask them where they play and where we need to go and we follow them. – Well, after a weekend with him we pulled him in and made him an offer and he accepted.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday. We had a day like today (last Wednesday): it was about 38 degrees and it was raining and we were forced indoors. Sunday morning we had a 9 a.m. guest speaker and you know what that’s like for the average 17- or 18-year old, they are just kinda sitting there. But I will never forget looking at Trent. He’s front row, center, hand on his knee locked in on every word (the speaker) said. I was thinking not only does he have talent to play here, but look at that, he wants to get better as a player.”
That he certainly did. Whitehead, who had several coaches during his time with the Pam Pack, conceded that when he came to Greenville he had a lot to learn.
“I believe I came to college very raw. There was a lot of things I didn’t know and a lot of things I wasn’t very good at,” Whitehead said. “For four years Coach Godwin and the staff have worked with me and I have seen major improvements in myself. There things now that I can do that in high school I never thought I could do.”
Whithead said where he has grown the most is in his mental approach to games and practice.
“It’s just more so the mental part of the game and the thinking part. I still have a long way to good and a lot of things I need to do, but the way I think about the game has changed,” Whitehead said. “Coming into college I was just a backyard baseball player and I didn’t really think much into it. Now I think about things more so than I have in the past and it has helped me become a better player.”
Godwin said Whitehead’s improved approach extends from the batter’s box to his home in center field.
“He has become more studious in the game and has a better understanding of the game,” Godwin said. “He went and played the game at a high level in high school because he was a very talented young man. … But now he has gotten better at the bunting game, hitting behind runners and moving runners, running the bases, when to tag when not to tag. I think they were some of the things we tried to make sure he understood. His instincts and stuff, we never touched those … but he has a better understanding of why.”
Whitehead’s instincts where never more evident then in 2009 when the outfielder sensed he had chance to earn a permanent spot in the starting lineup and responded by producing an ECU single-season record 105 hits and batted .376.
“Going into his sophomore year he started platooning in ’09. He didn’t necessarily play every day, but was in the game at some point in time for most games,” Godwin said. “We had an injury with our center fielder and we stuck him in center and he never looked back. He set the school record in hits.
“He made that transition. He made the most of his opportunity. I tell guys this all the time ‘You’re going to get a window of opportunity during your career here. When the window opens you have to jump through it. Don’t let it slam on your hand.’ He got a window of opportunity and he made the most of it and never looked back.”
As Whithead rounds third and heads into his fourth and final season as a Pirate the window of opportunity to get to Omaha is slowly closing, and there is no doubt the sweet-swinging lefty will do all he can to end this season without hurting his hand.