It would be hard to blame T.J. White if he had taken the summer before college to plan a trip, hang out with friends or settle into UNLV.
Instead, the recent Bishop Gorman graduate has helped his baseball team to its fourth trip to the American Legion World Series in six years.
“I always wanted to stay playing,” said White, a three-position player and one of the team’s offensive leaders. “I never wanted to stop. I had a team here for me, they accepted me back, and now we have a chance to go all the way. I’m glad I stayed with it and kept playing.”
The Titans (47-9-1) play Tupelo, Miss. (29-9), at 10 a.m. PDT today in Shelby, N.C. All games will be streamed live on ESPN3.com.
White, batting .414 with a .741 slugging percentage, 10 home runs and 78 RBIs, has had to take even more of the team’s offensive load in the postseason. Top slugger Joey Gallo accepted an invitation to play in the prestigious Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., ending his season.
“Gallo is Gallo, and there’s nobody else like him,” Gorman coach Nick Day said. “Not only can he drive in 20 runs, but he’d be a stopper on the mound.
“With him here, it would increase our chances tremendously. But we’re not focused on that. We’ve found some guys to take his place.”
White and classmate Erik Van Meetren have been two valuable placeholders. The duo broke out during the Western Regional in Fairfield, Calif., with Van Meetren going 10-for-23 with eight RBIs and White going 11-for-25 with a homer and nine RBIs. White also made a brief pitching appearance to help the Titans outlast League City (Texas) 23-20 in an early game. It was White’s first time on the mound this summer.
“He’s such a leader,” Day said. “In tight spots, he wants the ball and wants to be a big leader. He hasn’t pitched in four months, and he comes to me and says he wants to pitch. Losing him is tough, but it’s been great to have him for the summer.”
Van Meetren, who also has signed with UNLV, took little time to make his presence known, batting .424 with 15 RBIs since his July 4 debut.
That experience in the lineup has been valuable for first-year coach Day and the younger players.
“I just see it that I’ve been playing on this team for three years now,” said White, who is making his second World Series trip. “I know what’s going on and can help them relate to it and see how they need to play and how to get the job done.”
A loss to Sierra Vista in last year’s regional motivated Gorman to return to the final round.
“Losing last year to Sierra Vista was a big motivator in itself,” Day said. “It proved that they aren’t perfect and that they can be beat. They’ve had that on their mind all summer.”
Western Regional Most Valuable Player Cody Roper improved his record to 11-1 with a 2.70 ERA in wins over Tucson (Ariz.) and League City. And when the pitching cooled off, the Titans still made all the right plays with their bats.
Day said he hopes that strategy of doing “just enough” has a few more games left.
“It’s special for the kids,” Day said. “They treat the kids really well (in Shelby), and there will be big crowds. It’s a great opportunity for them.”