Alex Detz regularly played in front of more fans this year on the Mississippi State baseball team than he had ever before.
The junior – who previously was a standout at Mission Prep and Cuesta College – was exposed to an even bigger stage earlier this week when his Bulldogs team faced off against UCLA in the NCAA championship series in Omaha, Neb.
The two games, each won by UCLA, drew 25,690 and 27,127 people respectively.
Detz hit .318 this season, ranking him third on the Bulldogs team. He played first base, designated hitter, and third base during the course of the season.
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Amid the fanfare at the College World Series, Detz said that once he got on the field, it wasn’t difficult to focus on the game.
But he was well aware of the stage, including a national television audience. And all the pre-game and post-game attention was unique, he admits.
“It was pretty crazy,” Detz said. “We played in front of big crowds at our home field. But it didn’t compare to that. Once the game gets going, it’s something you’ve done your whole life, so, it’s not that much different. After and before the game, though, you get all these texts and calls. And there’s media everywhere.”
Detz went 1 for 4 in each game against UCLA and scored his team’s only run of the series in the first contest, a 3-1 loss.
Detz played third base in the first championship game and was DH for the second.
The Bruins pitching was effective throughout the postseason as the team went 10-0 in its run to their first championship, including a victory against Cal Poly.
Detz gave the UCLA pitching staff credit, but he says that his team didn’t feel overwhelmed. They just didn’t get the hits they needed to mount scoring rallies.
“Those two starters we faced were good,” Detz said. “I wouldn’t want to take anything away from UCLA, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before.”
For Detz even to get a crack at the starting lineup, an opportunity had to present itself.
And fortunately for him, it happened early in the season when teammate Wes Rea went down with injury.
Detz took over the starting role at first base in the third game of the season and remained a fixture in the lineup the rest of the year.
“I didn’t earn a starting spot in the fall,” Detz said. “We have a lot of good players. But when (Rea) got hurt, and the coach decided to put me in first, that was my opportunity.”
Detz said his biggest adjustment from community college to the Southeastern Conference wasn’t hitting.
Coming in as a second baseman from Cuesta, he had to learn new positions in the field at first and then at third. As a 5-foot-10 first baseman, he also was a bit smaller at that position than many in college baseball.
“It took me a little while to learn those positions, but it was easier at first than at third,” Detz said. “Now that I’ve been playing third more often, next year, hopefully I’ll be able to play third base full time. I’ll have the fall to work on that.”
Detz played for his father, Mission Prep’s baseball coach, and says his dad, Gerry Detz, influenced his baseball development over the years.
“He has been my coach since eight years old through Cal Ripken and all-stars,” Detz said. “I’ve learned a lot from my dad.”
Detz throws right-handed and bats lefty, ideal for a ballplayer to play any position and hit from the left side against righties.
But he says his father never pushed him to bat lefty. It just happened that way.
“He told me that when I first picked up a bat, I just hit from the left side,” Alex Detz said.
A pleasant experience for the Detz family was getting to attend NCAA postseason games. His father, mother, Toni, and two brothers, Jeremy and Kyle, all got to see him play in the team’s postseason run.
“They treat these kids like royalty,” Gerry Detz said. “Before the games, fans come up to the players and they’re signing autographs. It was surreal, an unbelievable atmosphere.”
Gerry Detz said he and his wife always believed their son would play baseball in college. But the success he’s having at one of the nation’s top programs is a bonus.
“Playing in front of a national audience in Omaha, that’s like icing on the cake,” Gerry Detz said. “It’s like playing with house money.”
Alex Detz has played on the San Luis Obispo Blues in the past, but this summer he’ll return home for a couple of weeks and then take summer classes at Mississippi State before getting ready for fall practice.
He wasn’t selected in the Major League Baseball Draft this year but he’s working on his game and trying to get stronger for next year’s draft.
“If it happens, it happens,” Alex Detz said. “But I’m also getting my college degree (in communications) at the same time.”