Lil' guy Rider epitomizes Kent State's CWS run
JUN 17, 2012 8:09p ET
OMAHA, Neb. — The four-year starter in the No. 1 jersey is pretty much the poster boy for Kent State baseball and a run to the College World Series that no one involved will ever forget.
That little guy? That's Jimmy Rider?
Yes, that's him.
"All of 5-9 and 160 pounds," Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said.
Rider, a team captain and the Mid-American Conference's career hits leader, epitomizes not only this Kent State team but also what it's up against Monday in a College World Series elimination game.
In the other dugout is Florida, the national No. 1 seed and a team full of blue-chip recruits who have lived up to their billing. Nine Gators were drafted earlier this month in the Major League Baseball Entry Draft, including two in each of the first two rounds.
"An offensive juggernaut," Stricklin said. "Their first four hitters are future major leaguers."
Rider plays some major defense from his shortstop position, even if his stature kept him from getting drafted until the 26th round. He's been good with the bat, too: He delivered the hit that sent Kent State to Omaha in the bottom of the ninth in the deciding game of the Super Regionals in Oregon, and his solo home run Saturday was Kent State's only run in an 8-1 loss to Arkansas.
While most of Kent State's players tried to stay serious when being introduced in front of almost 24,000 fans in the school's first-ever College World Series game, Rider let out a smile. After the game, he fought back tears.
He plays shortstop like every ball hit his way has the season at stake. He gets to most of them.
"We play the game the right way," Rider said. "We play with passion and desire. We go out there and grind it out.
"Did I ever think I'd be practicing at a high school in Bellevue, Neb., on a Sunday in June? No. But we earned our way here. We believe we belong here."
Rider's .362 batting average is tied for the team lead. He also leads the team with 104 hits, 29 doubles and 67 runs scored, but his contributions go beyond what shows up on the stat sheet. For a team that lost four players to the top 10 rounds of the draft a year ago and starts two freshmen, he's set examples on and off the field and quietly led the way.
"He's the nicest kid in the world," Stricklin said. "He's a 3.5 (GPA) student, and he's never, ever been invited into my office. Never. He's an absolute coach's dream."
Stricklin said it was third-base coach Scott Daeley who first saw Rider as a high school player in the Pittsburgh suburbs and reported to his boss that the little guy "could really play." Soon, Stricklin paid Rider a visit of his own.
"And Scott Daeley was right," Stricklin said.
Stricklin said Rider compares to undersized, overachieving former major leaguer David Eckstein, and that's high praise considering Stricklin starts all of his youth baseball camps by telling each wide-eyed camper that he should aspire to play the game the way Eckstein played it.
He has nothing but the highest of praise for Rider, too. Stricklin said he never yelled at Rider once during his near-flawless freshman season at second base. When Rider moved back to shortstop in the fall of his sophomore season and took an incorrect angle to a throw during practice, Stricklin yelled from across the field.
And practice stopped.
"The guys couldn't believe I yelled at Rider," Stricklin said. "I couldn't believe it, either. We all laughed."
He's not perfect, just close, and he might be down to his final college game. But Rider and his teammates plan to keep fighting the way they have all season. Stranger things have happened; that Kent State still is playing serves as proof.
"It's been a blast," Rider said. "It's been a pleasure to be here with all these guys. We have a great team. We deserve to be here. We want to go out there against Florida, have some fun and prove ourselves one more time."
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