KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Senior became Oregon State baseball fan in 2006-07

COURTESY: DAVE NISHITANI - Michael Gretler, starting third baseman, draws raves from his Oregon State coaches. CORVALLIS — The accolades and postseason laurels may go elsewhere, to players such as Luke Heimlich and Nick Madrigal and Adley Rutschman and Trevor Larnach.

Take a poll among Oregon State's coaches, though, before anointing someone other than Michael Gretler as what Beaver baseball is all about.

"Michael is the true definition of a student-athlete," associate head coach Pat Bailey says. "He's the glue to our team, the ultimate team guy. I'm so thankful I got to coach him for four years."

"He is one of my favorites," third base coach Andy Jenkins says. "I really respect Michael Gretler, Jack Anderson, Adley Rutschman — who they are on and off the field, the mindfulness they have for people around them. Michael has been a treat to coach. He's the all-American kid."

"He's one of the guys everybody on this team looks up to," head coach Pat Casey says. "You talk about good stories? He's one of them. Michael is just a first-class kid. He's the kind of young man everybody wants his daughter to marry."

Gretler will be at third base when No. 2-ranked Oregon State (44-10-1) plays host to LSU, San Diego State and Northwestern State in a three-day, double-elimination regional at Goss Stadium. OSU, seeded third in the nation, will open at 7 p.m. Friday against Northwestern State,

Gretler, a senior from Bonney Lake, Washington, has played in 189 games and started 165 of them in his four-year career. Over his final three seasons, Gretler has batted .310 and has served as an excellent defender, primarily at third base.

"We thought he could eventually blow up and be a guy who would be an all-league-caliber performer," Casey says. "Michael hasn't disappointed us."

Gretler became a fan of Oregon State baseball during the national championship seasons of 2006 and '07.

"I was in the fifth and sixth grades when they won the titles," he says. "To see a team from the Northwest do that, I was like, 'I want to go there.' I didn't consider any other schools. I came to their infield camp as a sophomore in high school, talked to the coaches, and a couple of weeks after that, they offered me. It was an easy choice."

Gretler got thrust into a starting role midway through his freshman season when shortstop Trevor Morrison was injured and third baseman Caleb Hamilton moved to short. Gretler hit only .171 in 105 at-bats but made able contributions to an OSU team that finished second in the Pac-12 and advanced to an NCAA tournament regional.

"Michael filled in and played a nice third base," Jenkins says, "but he was overmatched physically and not ready for Pac-12 pitching."

Though the batting average was a blow to Gretler's ego, the game experience proved invaluable.

"I had high expectations for myself coming in," he says. "I wanted to start as a freshman. I was thrown into the fire. It was a learning experience.

"Looking back, it has made me the player I am today. I had never failed before in my life. Hitting always came easy. I knew I just had to stick with it, and sure enough, it has worked out well."

After hitting a team-best .339 as a part-time starter in 2016, Gretler emerged as a key performer on last year's Pac-12 championship team that went 56-6. He batted .301 with five home runs and 33 RBIs while making the Corvallis regional all-tournament team and homering against Louisiana State in the College World Series.

Gretler was chosen by Pittsburgh in the 39th round of last June's draft, but the Pirates offered him a bonus commensurate to that of a sixth-round selection — $250,000, according to one source. He spoke with several Oregon State coaches along with director of baseball operations Jake Rodriguez, a former OSU catcher who signed after his junior season.

"Jake talked about what he had missed out on in what would have been his senior year," Gretler says. "I was a few classes away from my degree in finance. I wanted to get it done. And with the amount of guys we had coming back after not winning the title in Omaha, it was a no-brainer."

Gretler didn't play ball last summer. He opted to stay in Corvallis to lift weights and condition his body, putting 15 pounds on a 6-2 frame that now carries 185 pounds. The results at the plate have been striking. Gretler is hitting .311 with a team-high 20 doubles, seven home runs, 40 RBIs and a .380 on-base percentage. He has also been at his best defensively, with only five errors all season — two in the last 49 games.

"I really appreciate him coming back his senior year," Jenkins says. "It tells you about what's important in life for Michael. When he came in as a freshman, he was an underdeveloped young kid. Now he's a mature man. He has physically developed his body.

"It's been so cool to see what he has become. I talk about a perfect storm with Michael. It was defense first, then offense, then hitting for more power. That's what Michael has done this year — a lot of extra-base hits and line-drive singles the other way. He's using the whole field. That's been a game-changer for Michael. He used to be a pull-side guy. Now he's hitting the ball to all fields."

Then there's the "glue" that Bailey talks about.

"He's a good defender, but he has an average arm, and he's an average runner," Bailey says. "The thing is, he does all the little things that help you win games. He's Steady Eddie. He's smart. Michael is the most talkative guy on the team, and it's not even close. He's a leader, and he's such a great teammate."

It's Gretler's way to want to contribute.

"I didn't want to see the young guys struggle like I did as a freshman," Gretler says. "I've been through it all here, and if I can help out by talking to them about situations, answering questions about school or how to handle anything, I'm going to do it."

Gretler says he has learned much from playing for Casey.

"At first, it's a challenge," he says, "but that's what he wants it to be. He wants you to feel uncomfortable. That's when you have to start to believe in yourself a little more and lean on your teammates to pick you up. Those are the little life lessons he teaches you. When you believe in yourself and have that desire and will to succeed, that's going to trump all other things."

Gretler's parents, Jim and Nancy, aren't done watching Beaver baseball after this year. Michael's younger brother, Matthew, has signed with Oregon State. Matthew has a stockier frame than Michael at 6 foot and 180, and he hit 13 home runs as a senior in high school this spring. OSU coaches project him to play third base.

"Matthew is a better hitter than Michael was coming out of high school," Casey says.

The coach is convinced Gretler made the right choice returning for his senior season.

"I believe that's going to be a huge benefit for him as far as opportunities in pro baseball," Casey says. "He'll go in the first 10 rounds. He's bigger and stronger and a really good player now."

Gretler is growing nostalgic about his time at Oregon State. And he is eager to cross off the biggest item on his bucket list.

"I've had an incredible four years, on and off the field," he says. "I always wanted to come to school here, and it's been everything I could have imagined. I can't believe four years have gone by so fast. I have a group of teammates I'll have a bond with the rest of my life. I've been able to play in Omaha.

"But what happened there last year left a sour taste in our mouths. The ultimate goal is to win a title, and knowing the leadership on this team, we're going to make it happen this time."

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