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Walk-on Hendrix in the center of things at Oregon State

by: COURTESY OF SCOBEL WIGGINS - Oregon State center fielder Jeff Hendrix has been a key player this year for the Beavers.If Oregon State is to make it to the College World Series for the fifth time in a decade, Jeff Hendrix will play a major role.

It's an amazing statement about a walk-on from Class 3A Santiam Christian High who had 27 at-bats as a freshman in 2013.

It's #truth, though, for Hendrix, who has emerged as the starting center fielder for the sixth-ranked Beavers.

Hendrix went 2 for 4 with a walk and scored a pair of runs as Oregon State (22-6) held off Portland 9-6 Tuesday at Etzel Field. That improved his batting average to a team-best .460 this season.

"Jeff has done a fantastic job," OSU coach Pat Casey said. "When he has been healthy, he has been really good."

Problem is, a sore hamstring laid Hendrix up for nearly half of the season so far -- 13 games. He has been back for three weeks, and said the hamstring is 100 percent now.

"I'm feeling really healthy and hoping to stay that way for the rest of the year," Hendrix said. "I'm not too worried about that."

Hendrix was a big-time athlete at a small school at Santiam Christian, where he was a three-sport star who was nearly as valuable in football as in baseball. YouTube it: Hendrix's 47-yard field goal as time expired gave the Eagles a 31-28 victory over Dayton for the 3A state championship in 2011, touching off a mass celebration at midfield.

"I've watched Jeffrey grow up," Casey said. "His little brother (Daniel) and my son Joe played Little League all-stars together."

No scholarship offers came Hendrix's way, but that was fine. When Casey offered him preferred walk-on status, he jumped at it.

"Going to Oregon State to play baseball has been a dream of mine for most of my life," Hendrix said. "When (Casey) gave me the opportunity, I was chomping at the bit to get out there. It was a no-brainer."

Hendrix didn't blink at the transition from small high school to major college ball.

"I never really thought about that," he said. "I knew there would be a different speed to the game and there would be some adjustment, but I wasn't too worried about that. I was just excited for the opportunity."

Hendrix backed up Max Gordon on the OSU team that won the Pac-12 and came within two games of winning the national title a year ago.

"Max taught me a lot," Hendrix said. "Now I'm trying to build off of what he taught me."

The fleet 5-11, 190-pound Hendrix, who bats left and throws right, has often hit lead-off against right-handers. Hendrix -- perhaps the Beavers' fastest baserunner -- has scored 15 runs in 15 games and owns an on-base percentage of .575, reaching base nearly three of every five plate appearances.

"It's been going well," Hendrix said. "I'm trying to get on base as much as I can and trying to catch every ball in the outfield. That's my role. I need to keep producing and trying to be a good team player."

So far, so good.

"He's a great athlete, good arm, has some power -- he's going to be a really good player before he's through," Casey said. "He's just learning now how to play at this level. He was very well-coached at Santiam Christian, but it's quite a leap from there to the Pac-12.

"I'm proud of Jeffrey. He came from a place where he had very little baseball background. To jump into a conference like this and handle himself so well, it's not easy."

Sometimes Hendrix pinches himself when he looks at the guys flanking him in the outfield -- Pac-12 player of the year Michael Conforto in left and first-team all-Pac-12 selection Dylan Davis in right.

"It's awesome, getting to watch them hit and be a part of the outfield with them," Hendrix said. "It's a blessing."

At the halfway point of the regular season, Hendrix is on pace to shatter the school single-season record for batting average -- .423 by Randy Duke in 1987. It's a stretch to think Hendrix will come close to that. Coming out of Santiam Christian, though, who'd have figured he'd have achieved so much at Oregon State so soon?

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