Wells chooses playing time over redshirt season|[01/11/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2008

When he sat down in November with Ole Miss head baseball coach Mike Bianco to talk about his future, Tyler Wells was presented with a few options.

He could redshirt, like Bianco wanted him to, try to stay sharp in practice and bide his time while working his way into the lineup in 2009. Or, he could try a different path — transfer to a junior college and play while doing the same thing.

Wells chose the latter.

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The former Vicksburg High star, who signed with Ole Miss last winter and spent the fall semester in Oxford, has transferred to Hinds Community College. The plan, he said, is to play for two seasons in Raymond and keep his skills sharp, then head back to Ole Miss in a couple of years.

Wells cannot go back to Ole Miss until he graduates from Hinds.

“It is the plan. That’s what I want to do in a couple years is go back and play at Ole Miss. I know a lot of the guys (at Hinds). It’s kind of a homecoming, really,” Wells said. “The door’s still open. Everything’s fine. Going to Hinds is going to help me out with everything, not just ball.”

Wells will be the sixth player from Warren County on Hinds’ roster this spring, joining Jonathan Ettinger, Josh Gordon, Eric Douglas, Vernon Wolfe and Nick Carson. Wells hit .415 for Vicksburg in his senior season in 2007, with seven home runs and 37 RBIs. In four seasons with the Gators’ varsity, he had a career average of .318 with 13 homers, 28 doubles and 84 RBIs. Wells hit over .400 in each of the last two seasons.

He also played a number of positions in high school, including catcher, third base, outfield and second base. Wells said he figures to catch and play either center field or third base at Hinds. Hinds coach Sam Temple said he would try to put Wells’ versatility to good use.

“Tyler really possesses the ability to play a lot of different positions. Some of the things he does sits well with us. We just want to use his versatility in a way that benefits the team,” Temple said.

Wells had a solid fall practice for Ole Miss, but with six returning starters back on a team that advanced to the NCAA Super Regional round last year — including one at every position Wells can play — Bianco wanted him to sit out his freshman season. Wells, afraid he’d get rusty without seeing live game action and the bulk of the repetitions in practice, then asked about the junior college route.

A good working relationship between Temple and Bianco, as well as a strong recruiting push before Wells signed with Ole Miss, paid off in making the transfer go smoother.

“We recruited (Wells) hard before he committed to Ole Miss. We stayed in touch and he always knew we were an option,” Temple said. “There were a lot of relationships between there and here. It was definitely a situation that they wanted to see happen and they felt it was best for everybody.”

Wells stressed that his decision was all about playing time, and nothing more. Instead of sitting out one season and then working his way into the lineup in a likely backup role the next, he’ll be able to play two years at Hinds and hopefully keep his skills sharp.

“It was all playing time. I didn’t want to sit,” Wells said. “To me, baseball is baseball. You’ve got to play it. It’s an everyday thing and if you don’t play you lose what you have. I don’t want to lose what I have.”

During fall ball at Ole Miss, Wells nearly did lose everything. During a batting practice session, a teammate caught him in the eye with a bat on the backswing. Wells’ eye was badly cut, and six stitches were required to close the wound. Fortunately, that was the extent of the injury. There has been no lasting damage.

“I don’t know how I can’t see now,” Wells said. “I got knocked out. Blood was everywhere. I got hit and fell to the ground. The trainer picked me up and blood was all over my hand.”