Trey Truitt returns to the plate
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He stepped up to the plate looking to give Mercer the lead. With the game tied 7-7 in the top of the eighth, Trey Truitt clutched his bat as he stared down Western Carolina pitcher Colton Davis.
“When you walk in and you step into that batter’s box, you have to come in with an approach that ‘I’m better than you,’” Truitt said. “‘You’re not going to beat me.’”
It was the first of a potential three-game series to determine the Southern Conference champion. But instead of scooting past Davis on the mound, Truitt experienced something he couldn’t dodge: a fastball to the back of the head.
Suffering a concussion, Truitt was forced to miss the remaining two games of the series: losses of 4-2 and 3-2.
“It was tough not being down there with my team. But I had full confidence in them,” Truitt said. “You had the No. 1 hitter in the nation out there on the field with those guys. They were highly capable of winning that game — both of those games — without me.”
Because of his concussion symptoms, the outfielder watched the final two games in a dark room in the press box. But he could only stay away from his team for so long.
“Towards the end of the game — the second game — I finally just said, ‘Whatever, man,’ put in some earplugs and went down and cheered the guys on,” Truitt said.
The losses to end the season left the Bears at 38-23 overall, fueled in part by Truitt’s performance from the plate: He was second on the team in batting average (.335), runs (64), hits (79) and home runs (17) and finished third on the team with 54 RBI.
Entering his junior year as an outfielder, Truitt returns as the leading hitter from 2016 after Golden Spikes Award winner and now-Seattle Mariner Kyle Lewis took his talents to the professional stage. The Bears will look to replace Lewis’s 20 home runs, 72 RBI and .395 batting average.
While Truitt said Lewis’s shoes are big to fill, he believes he’s capable of filling the void along with his teammates.
“It’s going to be an all-around team effort just like it always has,” Truitt said.
Truitt will not only be losing a teammate but also a mentor in Lewis. The Dothan, Alabama, product said Lewis was both a mentor and his best friend.
“That guy took me under his wing,” Truitt said. “He taught me how to play under control in certain situations — how to command the field and be a general . . . [He was] everything you could ask for in a leader.”
But before Lewis, Truitt had a mentor who greatly influenced his love for the game: his father, Taiwan Truitt. According to Trey, his father played both football and baseball at Troy University and was eventually drafted by the Atlanta Braves.
Truitt never needed a coach growing up.
“He never forced me to do it,” Truitt said. It was just something like, ‘Hey, man, if you ever want to go play, we’ll sign you up, Son. He just made the game great and made me develop a love for it.”
That love has led him to where he is today: a Preseason Third Team All-American heading into the 2017 season. It’s just another award on top of his being named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team in 2015 and the All-SoCon Second Team in 2016.
“Preseason honors can definitely come back to haunt you,” Truitt said. “You just have to look at it like it’s not even there and go out and grind so a Preseason All-American at the end of the year will be an All-American.”
Truitt will be donning the Mercer uniform in the Bears’ first game Feb. 17 for the first time since he was concussed.
But it won’t be the first time he stepped to the plate since the accident. Truitt followed in Lewis’s footsteps and played in the Cape Cod League this summer.
Playing for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Truitt accumulated a .208 average with nine RBI and seven doubles.
Stepping back up to the plate for the first time since his injury, Truitt said he just wanted to get his next hit and get back to business.
“When I stepped in the box up there at Cape Cod, I just needed a hit to just relax myself again and be normal Trey on the field,” he said.
The Bears will hope he can do just that this season. Mercer returns every pitcher from last season; Truitt said he believes pitching will be the key to the team’s success in 2017.
Truitt will try to do his part from the plate and give back to the program that has given so much to him both on and off the field.
“I was a very irresponsible kid. I had problems going to class. Getting up [and] waking up in the morning was tough for me,” Truitt said. “Coming in — they always have a joke about it — I couldn’t even do a push up at the end of a workout. I was so scrawny and small. They’ve reformed my game and how I approach life.”