College Sports

Big weekend ahead

Coastal Carolina right fielder Tommy Baldridge, left, celebrates his three-run home run to give CCU a 13-10 lead in the eighth inning over Alabama on Saturday in the Conway Regional.
Coastal Carolina right fielder Tommy Baldridge, left, celebrates his three-run home run to give CCU a 13-10 lead in the eighth inning over Alabama on Saturday in the Conway Regional.

CONWAY -- There were several dozen baseball players made into very wealthy young men yesterday, and several hundred more will follow today.

Fort Mill native and Coastal Carolina outfielder Tommy Baldridge could join them today, but if he does or doesn't, it's not a big concern.

There are more important goals on the horizon.

"We feel like we have a lot of momentum coming into this weekend," said Baldridge, previewing his Chanticleers' Super Regional matchup with North Carolina, a series beginning Saturday in Cary, N.C. "I think it'll be a great weekend."

A senior, Baldridge is facing a hectic few days. The Major League Baseball draft began Thursday and continues today. His cell phone could ring with any one of 30 teams on the other end, telling him he's just been picked and somebody will be by in a few weeks to talk contracts.

Then there's the small matter of playing the Tar Heels (49-12), two-time defending College World Series runners-up, for a berth in the CWS. Coastal (50-12), after making history by hosting a regional and advancing to the Supers for the first time, is looking to add its first trip to Omaha, Neb., to the list.

Baldridge is a key part of those hopes, hitting .352 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs. He and teammate David Anderson were co-MVPs of their regional last week and each are hoping to mimic their team's performance from earlier this year.

March 11, on the same field in Cary -- Coastal 11, UNC 4.

"I just hope we come out swinging and get the things done and give some support to our pitchers so we have a chance to win," Baldridge said. "We keep talking about that. 'We're only two wins away ...,' but I don't think it's really hit any of us, but I'm sure it will when we get there."

It's a familiar process for Baldridge, who some thought could get an offer from MLB last year. He hit .383 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs as a junior, helping the Chants claim their first host spot in a regional, although they had to play in Myrtle Beach.

Baldridge said before the draft he wasn't thinking about it because not many scouts or personnel had been by to talk to him. He said all along he was planning to return to Coastal for his senior year.

It was a bad two weekends in 2007. First the Chants were knocked out of their own regional, then Baldridge was unnamed in the draft.

Being passed over was expected, but still stung a little. This year, he knows getting drafted might be a longshot, so he's taking an approach of not caring about it.

If it happens, fine. But the real mission this weekend is to keep improving his college career.

"I haven't heard anything about (the draft)," Baldridge said. "My focus is on this weekend right now."

It's been steady improvement for Baldridge and the Chants since he first reported to Conway for the 2005 season. He hit .356 as a freshman and was an integral part of a 50-win team that claimed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Regionals. The only problem was they were rewarded by being No. 1 in Arizona State's Regional, where the host Sun Devils eliminated them.

His sophomore campaign was a major disappointment, the Chants going 30-27 and missing the NCAAs. Baldridge added some muscle and re-discovered his swing for his junior year, helping make history, and his senior year was more of the same, only better.

Whatever happens this weekend (or perhaps next, at the CWS), it's been a terrific career for the former The Herald Player of the Year. He's never been reluctant to return to his hometown for clinics or summer-league ball and has become known as a solid citizen, not just a solid ballplayer.

"He is more than willing to come back and talk," former Fort Mill baseball coach Darren Wilson said last year. "He's a good influence on our kids so we want to get him around those-type kids and success stories."

Baldridge is set to graduate in December with a degree in health promotions, which he hopes to turn into a career in sports medicine or as an assistant coach. He's keeping his options open about where his academic career might take him, since his baseball career is still going.

"I'll probably just do it wherever a better offer comes up," he said. "The draft, I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens. This weekend, it should be really intense.

"It's pretty amazing to see how we've progressed over the four years since I've been here. It's been a special, special career for me."