Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

53°F

Portland

Partly Cloudy

Humidity: 89%

Wind: 0 mph

  • 2 Oct 2014

    Mostly Sunny 73°F 52°F

  • 3 Oct 2014

    Sunny 80°F 55°F


EGGERS: OSU's Ben Wetzler still has one pitch to make

CORVALLIS — Pat Casey's target for Ben Wetzler's season debut Sunday at Goss Stadium was 90 pitches.

Oregon State's senior left-hander made it to 89.

Wetzler will save his final pitch for the public and perhaps for the NCAA, when he decides the time is right.

"I haven't told my side of the story," he said after the fourth-ranked Beavers' 13-2 win over Wright State. "Sometime in the future, I'll let myself do that. Right now, I want to focus on my team and winning games."

Wetzler's focus was spot-on Sunday on a day best suited for raincoats and umbrellas.

It stayed dry for most of a three-hour window during which Wetzler held the Raiders to four hits and one earned run through 7 2/3 innings, with one walk and five strikeouts.

"Felt like a little kid going out to make his first start again," said Wetzler, suspended by the NCAA for 11 games due to what was ruled as inappropriate use of a financial advisor in contract negotiations with the Philadelphia Phillies. "It was fun."

Pitching coach Nate Yeskie was pleased with Wetzler's performance.

"His changeup was really good early, though it started to get away from him late," Yeskie said. "His slider was on par where I hoped it would be. That pitch has really made strides for him. His fastball command was good. He came through in the middle innings when it was still close."

Yeskie, like Casey, didn't want Wetzler to let his emotions get the best of him.

"Ben handled it really well," Yeskie said. "I told him, 'You don't have anything to prove today other than you have a chance to come out and do what you love.'

"Once he got out of that first inning, it was OK. We wanted to make sure he didn't come off with adrenaline high and be in a wash from that point forward. He managed himself very well. And his presence -- you can't put value on how important that is to our whole club."

"I did an OK job," Wetzler told the media. "The first couple of innings, I was kind of antsy and amped up. 'Case' told me all week to control your emotions and do the best you can to be you. I was able to do that decent."

Being Ben is easy for Wetzler, one of the most popular players Casey has had during his 20 years as Oregon State's head coach.

"He's really good to everyone," senior infielder Kavin Keyes said. "He's one of the best teammates I've ever been around."

"I'm a goofy guy," said Wetzler, selected by Philadelphia in the fifth round of the major-league draft last June. "I try to keep the guys loose. It's the last time baseball is fun, the last time you play for each other.

"Once you go to the (pro) level, you're playing for yourself, trying to get yourself to the big leagues. It's not a team game again until you're in the playoffs. Getting the guys to realize we can have fun together and want the best for each other, that's my biggest motivation."

The 6-1, 195-pound Wetzler -- a first-team all-Pac-12 choice in helping OSU to the Pac-12 championship and College World Series as a junior -- turned down bonus money slightly higher than the slotted $305,000 for that pick. Part of the reason is he didn't want his college baseball experience to be over.

"The feeling we had in the locker room in Omaha, I didn't want it to end," Wetzler said. "There's nothing like college sports and playing on a baseball team like Oregon State and playing for Case.

"We're such a family. We've grown up together. Watching some of my brothers leave last year was hard, but there are still some in the dugout now. It's like we're the younger guys' big brothers. It's family you keep adopting more and more kids to. Running them through this program is really special."

Like every other drafted player, Wetzler sought help from a financial advisor -- in his case, Portland's Nik Lubisich, who was to become his agent if he chose to sign a contract with the Phillies.

Word throughout pro baseball circles is Wetzler indicated he would sign for slightly more than "slot" money -- somewhere between $325,000 and $350,000.

"We don't draft a kid unless we're pretty confident -- like 150 percent confident -- the guy's going to take the money," said a scout for another team, who asked to remain anonymous. "If he says yes, we pull the trigger."

After the draft, which took place the week before the start of the College World Series, Wetzler decided it would require more money to end his college experience. The Phillies chose not to meet the higher price and faced some dire consequences.

"If the slot is $305,000 and he doesn't sign, the club loses that money" in its draft pool, the scout said. "You don't get a kickback."

This wasn't the first time a club had been jilted. Why Philadelphia chose to turn Wetzler into the NCAA remains a mystery, as does the case of Washington State's Jason Monda, selected by the Phillies in the sixth round. He was cleared of wrong-doing just before the season.

If nothing else, the Phillies lose in the court of public opinion on the Wetzler case.

Wetzler was in a holding pattern through the first two weeks of the season, wondering if he'd lose half the season before finding out last week his penalty would be 20 percent. Now he's back, with no explanation from either the Phillies or the NCAA.

"This whole thing has been a troubling situation for Ben, and that makes it troubling for me," Casey said. "It's an unjust situation he's had to endure for a long time. What he had to go through, nobody should have to go through."

When I tried to contact NCAA officials about Wetzler's case, I got no return call or email. Oregon State representatives had no better luck.

"It's kind of like the IRS," Casey said. "It's been pretty tough to talk to them. Our people did as good a job as they could. You're at the mercy of the court. He was guilty before he had the opportunity to prove himself innocent."

There's an easy solution. The NCAA gives a baseball player tacit approval now to retain a financial advisor in negotiating with the club that drafts him. Make it fully legal. After his junior year, the player would be allowed to pay for and receive advice from the man who would be his agent. As long as the player doesn't sign a contract with the drafting club by a certain date, he can return for his senior season.

It wouldn't be unlike basketball, where the player can declare for the NBA draft and -- as long as he doesn't sign with an agent -- can withdraw by a certain date and return to school. In football, the college player can submit his name to the NFL Advisory Committee, then must make a decision by a certain date whether to go into the draft or return to school.

Casey thinks changes are in the offing.

"I believe this particular case will be looked at in terms of what financial advisors can do, and how they represent college baseball players," the veteran OSU coach said. "Ben did what the NCAA should want him to do -- go back to school."

Wetzler -- who stayed home while the Beavers played tournaments at Arizona the first two weeks of the season -- isn't worried about the NCAA or the Phillies right now. He is fully focused on being a college baseball player again, with the goal of helping his team make it back to Omaha.

"I'm very happy just to be out here with the guys again," he said. "I love Corvallis, but to be stuck here with all my friends gone, it was tough."

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Twitter: @kerryeggers