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College World Series Notebook
CSF's Pilittere exceeds modest expectations
By John Manuel
OMAHA—When he first came to Cal State Fullerton, P.J. Pilittere had modest expectations.
He just wanted to be on the team.
Even that lowly goal wasn’t easily attained. The Titans didn’t necessarily want Pilittere, at least not enough to aggressively recruit him out of Bishop Amat High in Walnut, Calif. Pilittere was asked to redshirt as a freshman, which he did dutifully.
Then, coach George Horton suggested that perhaps Pilittere should transfer to a junior college, get more playing time and perhaps return to the program later. It was January 2001, just before the spring semester was set to begin.
This time, Pilittere didn’t do what he was told.
“Being a Titan and being a good teammate was my number one priority,” Pilittere said. “I was close a lot of guys on the team, and I just felt that being the third-string catcher was a role I was willing to play. I told coach Horton that I really thought that it would be best for the team if I stuck around.
“Then about four weeks into the season, I was starting.”
Pilittere has developed from unwanted to emergency starter, to the Titans’ leading hitter in 2003 and now to their cleanup hitter and team captain. He helped Fullerton get off to a good start Saturday in his third trip to the College World Series, singling in the fourth inning as the Titans got the only run they would need in a 2-0 victory.
Pilittere, now a fifth-year senior, spent the game at first base, his 41st start there in addition to 20 behind the plate. Pilittere has shared the catching duties the last two seasons with Kurt Suzuki, the junior All-American who also happens to be his roommate. The friendship the two have formed over three seasons has allowed them to share the jobs of first base and catcher with no friction, and has helped the Titans keep two of their best bats fresh and in the lineup.
“Since the day I stepped on campus at Fullerton, P.J. has taken care of me, and we’ve been great friends,” said Suzuki, who has learned to play first base to accommodate his friend’s desire to still play some behind the plate. “We have stayed the best of friends. Sometimes people think we might have a problem playing the same position, but it’s been totally the opposite. He’s my roommate and we get along so well. We have similar mentalities.”
Suzuki leads the team by example, though he said he’s willing to put in “my two cents worth. But P.J. is the vocal type; when something needs to be said, he’s the guy talking to the team, making the statements.”
Horton said he likes to leave the team to its own devices sometimes when things go wrong and relies on Pilittere to be an extension of the staff. “As I’m walking away, I’ll try to pick up on what’s being said sometimes,” Horton said, “and I’ll hear P.J. It’s good stuff. He’s a great leader for our ballclub.”
Pilittere describes his leadership style as “enthusiastic,” and he tries to keep an open door for teammates. He’s fielded many questions about what to expect in Omaha from other Titans who have not been here before, and he said the current club compares favorably to the 2001 and ’03 teams that also reached this level.
After being a role player in ’01, Pilittere has developed into a key reason for the last two Titans teams have advanced to the CWS. He entered his junior season with a .233 career average, then batted .380-3-31 last season and was sitting at .353-4-49 this year. His swing isn’t textbook, Horton said, but he’s learned not to try to mess with it. Pilittere knows what pitches he can handle and what he can’t, as evidenced by just 23 strikeouts in 249 at-bats.
“Honestly, I have exceeded my own expectations,” said Pilittere, a Mets fan who is still getting used to the idea of being drafted (in the 13th round) by the Yankees. “Now it’s gotten to the point where I expect nothing less than to succeed.”Driving With Dooley
If Pilittere has exceeded expectations, Texas’ Dooley Prince has just started living his dream.
He’s come a long way from Sulphur, La., transferring into Texas this season from McNeese State, where he was an all-Southland Conference choice for two seasons.
The junior found out it was a different brand of college baseball at Texas than it was at McNeese State. He had played center field for two seasons for the Cowboys, but upon his arrival in Austin, he was competing for the job with freshman Drew Stubbs, an unsigned third-round pick of the Houston Astros.
“He’s a great player,” Prince said. “When I saw him and got to know his makeup, I realized it was going to be a battle for playing time. I moved to right, then to left, but I didn’t mind, because there was a good player in the way.”
Prince also remained confident that he could be a good player, having hit .340 in each of his first two seasons as McNeese State’s leadoff hitter. He found tougher going in the Big 12, entering the CWS at .264 with a .336 slugging percentage overall and just .167 in 36 at-bats in Big 12 play. However, Prince has 12 steals in 15 attempts, and he was 5-for-8 in his first five games in the postseason, working his way back into the starting lineup at DH.
“He showed up as a center fielder for us, but we found out quickly that wasn’t his best position,” coach Augie Garrido said. “He started for us early in right field and then moved to left, and he lost his job for a short time, but he’s worked his way back into playing an important role for us.”
Prince had two hits and a game-high four RBIs as the DH against Arkansas on Friday night, hitting his third triple of the season in the process, to improved to 7-for-11 in postseason play (counting the Big 12 tournament). He’s part of the Longhorns’ exploding offense, which has scored 85 runs over that 10-game span.
“It’s been real important for our confidence as hitters,” Prince said. “A lot of people have been saying we’re not a good-hitting team, and this good start (Friday) should be helpful.”
It’s all about confidence for the Longhorns and for a player nicknamed Dooley after the 18-wheel truck trailer. Clinton Prince got the name from his parents when he was a youngster, and it has stuck.
“I was a little stocky when I was little,” Prince said, “and I used to like to get on my hands and knees and run around on the floor. My parents said I looked like a Dooley truck.
“I don’t mind what anybody calls me as long as we’re winning.”News & Notes
Fullerton has three shutouts in its last six games, and also has three shutouts in its College World Series history. The last time the Titans tossed a shutout in Omaha, against Tennessee in 1995, they went on to win the Series . . . Other than hit batsmen (the Series already has had 14), offense is down this year in Omaha. There were no shutouts in CWS play from 1996-2001, but this marks the third straight Series with at least one shutout. Also, only one home run was hit in the first three games (by Arkansas’ Scott Bridges); his homer narrowly kept the ’04 Series from becoming the first since 1975 to have a homerless first day. Miami’s Ryan Braun then got Game Four off to an early offensive start with a two-run homer in the first inning . . . The Session Three attendance mark of 23,976 was the 17th-highest attended session in CWS history, as excellent weather and a big-time matchup brought fans out to Rosenblatt Stadium after a modest first-day showing . . . Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is off to an 0-5 start in CWS play, having lost all four games in 2001-2002 as coach at Nebraska and now Friday night’s game. He’s in danger of becoming the first coach ever to lose his first six games as coach in Omaha, but Arkansas’ history is working for him; the Razorbacks have never left the CWS without a win.