Always a Hit
May 21, 2008
by Jeff Smith
When the Purdue baseball coaching staff began recruiting Ryne White during a showcase tournament at the University of Illinois-Chicago four years ago, they learned quickly that the talented Chicago native could hit. He possessed an uncanny eye when it came to pitch selection at the plate and he also boasted a little power as well. Boilermaker head coach Doug Schreiber referred to him as a "green flag" - a sign that he was impressed with his hitting abilities. What Schreiber did not know at the time was just how much of a hit White would become in West Lafayette.
As the junior leads the second-seeded Boilermakers into this week's Big Ten Tournament, Schreiber recently recalled the impact White has made on the team by referring to him as the main cog in the team's proverbial wheel.
"He's a genuine ballplayer who has the utmost respect of the entire team and coaching staff," Schreiber said.
Since arriving on campus in 2005, White has been one of the most productive players for the Boilermakers both at the plate and in the field. In the past three years, he has earned All-Conference honors on all three teams and two different positions. As a freshman he was a second-team honoree in the outfield and a unanimous first-team and third-team selection at first base the past two seasons, respectively. At the plate, White has posted numbers the past three years that has made him a threat to the opposition each time he steps in the box.
"I feel like I have put together three very solid years," said White. "Last season I just felt locked in at the plate. I felt like no matter what they threw or where they threw it, I was going to get a hit."
During his sophomore campaign, White took control of the conference by leading the league with a .452 batting average overall and a .463 clip in Big Ten play. He also paced the conference in both categories in slugging percentage (.663, .676) and on-base percentage (.521, .550), respectively, while leading the Big Ten with 90 hits - the second-most in school history. White also led the team in runs scored (48), runs batted in (47), home runs (8), walks (26) and total bases (132).
"Last year was one of the best seasons I have ever had," he said.
White knew that his numbers would most likely not be as high this season, and they haven't. He is hitting .332, is fourth in the Big Ten with 12 home runs and is fifth with a .592 hitting percentage. Schreiber says that while those figures are still impressive, the opposition has learned more about White as a hitter and has been pitching him differently this year.
"He started off a little bit slow, but that's mostly because he was pitched around and saw a lot of off-speed stuff," Schreiber said. "But all of his home runs this year have been important. They haven't come when we are up 10 (runs) or down 10. Regardless of whether he is 0-for-3 or 3-for-3 on the day, he's the guy we want up at the plate."
White attributes his success at the plate from constant work in the batting cages off of live pitching. He said it's important to "keep doing what your doing" and says he focused more on staying on the outside pitch and hitting to the opposite field following his freshman season.
That year White surprised several Boilermakers by finishing his first season second on the squad with a .352 batting average. His average was the best mark by a Purdue freshman since 1964 and his overall efforts earned him a spot on the Collegiate Baseball's Freshman All-America team.
Schreiber saw potential in White immediately as a freshman in the fall and said it was rare, yet a necessity, to bat his talented product in the No. 3 hole for the majority of the year.
"We felt he was going to hit right away and he did that right way," he said. "He is still our best hitter. Ryne understands the count and doesn't chase balls out of the (strike) zone. He always manages to put up more walks than strikeouts."
When White first arrived, Schreiber elected to give him time in both left and centerfield. Following the graduation of Eric Wolfe, White was moved to first base. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, typically Major League Baseball teams prefer taller first basemen, Schreiber felt he would be a perfect field general at first.
"Ryne has a great glove, can dig balls out of the ground and can stretch with the best of them," Schreiber said. "I expect him to be a high draft pick, but the pro scouts are probably looking at him more as a leftfielder."
The major leagues are definitely within White's sight, although he is focused on completing his degree in law and society, which White says is Purdue's fancy name for criminal justice. Following graduation next year he is interested in pursuing law enforcement back home in Chicago. His father Kevin is a member of Chicago's finest on the gang crime force, and yes, White says dad does carry the traditional Chicago cop mustache, albeit a thin one.
But there is more baseball ahead for White. The Boilermakers are hoping to meet up with Michigan in this weekend's tournament final. The Wolverines are not only the three-time defending regular-season champion, but also the host of this year's event. Purdue, which has not won a conference championship since 1909, recently earned its third second-place regular-season conference finish in Schreiber's 10-year tenure.
"We started off slow this year, but once conference play came around, we got rolling and have been ever since," White said.
The same can be said about White and his career at Purdue.
"He's well liked and respected by the entire team," Schreiber said. "He's the main cog in our team."
The Boilermaker coach knew White could come in and hit right away, but it's safe to say, too, he's been extra pleased with just how much of a hit he has become.