May 8, 2012
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - There are certainly bigger, more gifted players on the UCF baseball squad than the 5-foot-10 (maybe), 180-pound (possibly) Travis Shreve. And there are also those with gaudier statistics than the scrappy second baseman from Washington who nearly walked on at a NAIA school prior to getting noticed by UCF at the 11th hour.
But in terms of sheer demeanor, leadership and moxie, there is quite possibly no player more responsible for 13th-ranked UCF's success than the wispy, wiry Shreve. So says UCF head coach Terry Rooney, who took a flier on Shreve and has reaped the rewards ever since.
"Last year this program got back to a (NCAA) regional and if we continue to do well let's hope we get back there again. Travis Shreve is one of the biggest reasons for that, one of the biggest reasons for the success of this program the last two years,'' Rooney gushed. "When he stepped foot on this campus with his confidence, his hustle and the way he carries himself, it brought a whole new element to our team. People who watch us know he's brought us exactly what we needed. He's the spark that we needed."
The kicker is that Shreve might look like the unlikeliest key player on a nationally ranked team. His uniform hangs off of him as if he's a batboy of some sort, his thin whiskers resemble a teenager trying to grow his first mustache and the way he crouches at the plate at times makes him look like the Little Leaguer who just hoped to get walked.
But that appearance belies the inner fire, passion and leadership skills of UCF's most respected leader in the clubhouse. He not only leads the Knights in batting average (.352 through Monday), but he also leads in dirty uniforms, sliding strawberries and guttural screams from the dugout. Shreve gets the most out of his ability because, well, it's the only way he's ever played and that style paved his path to Orlando from his home some 3,000 miles away.
"I don't have as many tools as other guys so that's how I have to play every game. I just lay it on the line for my teammates every day,'' said Shreve, whose Knights are off until they play a three-game series at Marshall over the weekend. "I feel like if I didn't play the way I do I wouldn't be the player that I am. It brings out the best in me. Having energy makes an ordinary player a little better."
Maybe no play typifies Shreve's hustle, grit and willingness to find a way than his diving slide into home plate last week for a critical run in UCF's defeat of Stetson. Tagging up from third base on a fly ball to right field, Shreve had to sneak his left hand around the leg of the Stetson catcher, who had predominantly blocked the plate. He absorbed the catcher's shin guard to his head and shoulder, knocking him somewhat woozy and setting off a somewhat chaotic argument between the two managers and the umpire.
"(The play) was just the epitome of Travis Shreve,'' Rooney raved. "He goes in there headfirst, takes a hit and he's hurting and can barely swing the bat, but he stays in the game. He's just huge player for us.''
And to think that Shreve almost wound up at the NAIA school Lewis and Clark State in Idaho before being discovered by UCF. Late in the recruiting process two seasons ago, Rooney needed a middle infielder and reached out to some of his coaching connections in the Pacific Northwest for a recommendation. They told him about a hard-nosed shortstop who wouldn't blow anyone away with his size, but would be a difference maker with his hustle and energy. Shreve, a native of Auburn, Wash., wasn't recruited out of high school, spent two years at Skagit Valley College and had no college offers before UCF showed up.
Rooney was impressed enough talking baseball with Shreve over the phone that he flew to Oregon to see Shreve play a summer league game. He offered the former shortstop a scholarship that day on the spot even though Shreve remembers himself doing "nothing special, really."
Rooney saw the just the kind of toughness and intangibles he was looking for in Shreve.
"Travis was just what they told me he was - a high energy guy who could make every play and do whatever it takes,'' Rooney said. ``Just sitting there that day you could see what he brought to the table and his energy and enthusiasm. He's a consummate baseball player who will do whatever it takes to win.''
That's been evident this season as he has improved his swing dramatically to become somewhat of a second leadoff hitter for the Knights from the ninth hole in the lineup. After struggling at times last year, he now leads the Knights in batting average (.352), he's second in doubles (13), third in runs scored (33) and fourth in on-base percentage (.411). Just as important, he's struck out only 17 times in 162 at bats, he's swiped 14 bases and he's committed only seven errors from second base.
"Before I got here to UCF I wasn't the greatest hitter,'' Shreve said with a chuckle. ``Last year, (former UCF assistant coach) Cliff Godwin worked with me all of the time on getting on top of the ball. I was flying out a lot last year and hitting a lot of flies because I was trying to hit it as hard as I could. The coaches just told me, no matter how hard I hit the ball, if I hit it high, I'm going to be out. They told me if I wanted to be successful and keep playing I needed to hit ground balls and head-high line drives. I worked on it all last year and got better at it. I kept working on that it really helped me out.''
And Shreve has certainly done plenty to help out UCF. He's only been around the UCF baseball program for two seasons, but his impact is an immense one, Rooney said. Years from now Rooney will likely still be showing recruits and young players Shreve's gritty slide into home last week against Stetson. That's just how strongly he feels about UCF's little big man.
"Travis Shreve has been a program-changer for us since he's gotten here,'' Rooney said. "Not only because he's statistically doing a great job for us, but it's just his attitude and the leadership that he brings. He's a program-changer with his defense, his offense and his overall attitude.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.