The Wolfpacker

Nov-Dec 2021

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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50 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER E lliott Avent vividly remembers the fall afternoon the junior high principal showed up at his classroom and said with a stern face: "Eddie, come with me to the office." It was not a career first. What Avent didn't expect was that the principal, who knew of the young student's devotion to baseball, was inviting him to watch the first game of the 1968 World Se- ries on a small color television. The game turned out to be one of the all-time greats in the history of the Fall Classic. St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson out- dueled Denny McLain, the Detroit Tigers' 31-game winner, in the opener of an epic seven-game series. The Cardinals won the pitchers' duel, 4-0, but the Tigers went on to win the series when Detroit's Mickey Lo- lich out-pitched Gibson in the final game. "That's when the only playoffs were the World Series, and all the games were played in the afternoon," Avent said, re- calling one of the clearest moments of his youth. Avent was forever hooked on postsea- son baseball. "If I didn't have to watch the playoffs and John Wayne movies, I wouldn't even own a television," the veteran NC State baseball coach noted. So it meant something to Avent to round out this year of personal and profes- sional turbulence with all three of his ac- tive major leaguers, plus one other former player, qualified for the playoffs: infielder Trea Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitcher Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox and catcher Andrew Knizner of the St. Louis Cardinals, plus Dodgers assistant hitting coach Aaron Bates. "I am just so proud of them all for what they have accomplished," Avent said. The 65-year-old Avent doesn't want those accomplishments — plus his school- record number of victories, the postseason successes that include two trips to the Col- lege World Series and the record number of MLB Draft picks — to be seen as a personal legacy. It is, however, the continu- ance of the program's legacy, which has flourished under Avent's guidance. Wolfpack baseball is perhaps the most stable program in the athletics department, with four successful coaches since the end of World War II: Vic Sorrell, Sam Esposito, Ray Tanner and Avent. They have won championships and produced dozens of major league players. This year, however, was special. Turner had the best regular season of his career and continues to be the most underrated player in the big leagues. He led the majors with a .328 batting average and 195 hits. He also led the National League with 32 stolen bases and 319 total bases. In his six years with the Washington Na- tionals and a half season with the Dodgers, Turner has led the majors in five statistical categories, which matches the total number of MLB leaders in the history of the Pack program, dating back to when New York Giants slugger Dave Robertson led the ma- jors with 12 home runs in both 1916 and '17. After leading the majors with 78 hits in last year's COVID-shortened season, Turner matched Robertson in leading all of baseball in a category in back-to-back seasons. Both Turner and former teammate Rodon were All-Stars this year, though Turner had only one at-bat and Rodon didn't play in the relocated game in Den- ver in July. Fully recovered from 2019's Tommy John surgery, Rodon also had the best season of his career. On April 14, he threw one of baseball's record nine no- hitters in an 8-0 victory over the Cleve- land Indians, narrowly missing a perfect game with a hit batsman. Rodon was scheduled to start for the White Sox in the inaugural Field of Dreams Game, one of MLB's most successful en- deavors and highest-profile regular-sea- son games in decades, but was scratched because of shoulder fatigue. It wasn't a lingering injury, and Rodon finished the season with the first double-digit win to- tal (13-5) of his career, his lowest earned run average (2.37) and the most strike- outs (185) in pushing the White Sox to an American League Central Division title. Knizner is still blocked from regu- lar play by future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina, but he saw action in 63 of the Cardinals' games this year behind the 39-year-old perennial All-Star. Bates, a two-time All-American at NC State who made it to the majors with the Boston Red Sox in 2009, has been with the Dodgers organization for nearly seven years as a hitting instructor. He's been in his current position for three seasons. Avent is a proud papa to them all. He had planned to go to the Cardinals-Dodgers wild-card game — as he did when the Na- tionals played Milwaukee en route to the 2019 World Series title — during NC State's fall break, but the schedule didn't work out with his team's practice slate. "The reason I wanted to do that was be- cause what Trea and the others have done is a tribute to the program," Avent said. "It's a tribute to guys like [strength and condition- ing coordinator] Gabe Button, [equipment manager] Jodie Cahoon and [longtime as- sistant coach] Chris Hart, and all the people who have devoted so much of their lives to NC State. "Our guys in the majors are playing for them, too." ■ Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at PACK PERSPECTIVE MLB Playoffs Offer Proof Of Baseball Program's Impact All three of the active major leaguers who played at NC State under veteran head coach Elliott Avent (above) reached the MLB playoffs: infielder Trea Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox and catcher Andrew Knizner of the St. Louis Cardinals. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN

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