SE: Manhattan High Duo Living A Wildcat Dream
SE: Manhattan High Duo Living A Wildcat Dream
April 5, 2012
This feature story appeared in Thursday edititon of K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
It was a staged photo, but on a late-1990s Kansas State media guide, there’s this little tot looking up to his Wildcat baseball idols asking for an autograph.
The little guy has now turned into a 6-foot-1, 215-pound big guy who is now wearing the Wildcat uniform and signing autographs.
“I have always loved the university and the sports teams,” said K-State senior Matt Giller. “I remember coming out … it was called Frank Myers Field back then … with my dad and sitting on those wooden bleachers to watch the ‘Cats play. I always wanted the chance to play here and coach (Brad) Hill gave me that opportunity as a walk-on and I’ve taken advantage of it.”
The story is much the same for Blair DeBord, who is another graduate of Manhattan High School making an impact for the Wildcats.
“My thing as a kid was the K-State football team. That was back in the days of Michael Bishop, David Allen and Mark Simoneau,” said the Wildcat sophomore. “I wasn’t too much into the other sports at an early age, but as I got older I got into wanting to stay here and make a difference.”
Like Giller, it was more DeBord calling Hill and saying, “I’d really like the opportunity to make a difference and get it to the next level. Being from Manhattan, I think it fuels all of us to take a little more pride in the program and work a little harder.”
The two former Indians are following a cast that includes such starters as Heath Schesser, Derek Bunker, Brett Scott and Justin Murray in recent seasons.
And, joining Giller and DeBord on the current K-State roster from Manhattan High are freshmen outfielder Kyle Speer and infielder Dusty Maas.
“There aren’t many people who think too much of Kansas high school baseball. They think you have to come from Texas or Oklahoma to be any good,” said DeBord. “But we all have aspirations to play big-time college baseball. We’re working hard to get to the level where you go to Omaha (College World Series) every year.”
Both Indians turned Wildcats have fought through the challenge of recovering from shoulder injuries.
After a sophomore season in 2010 when Giller hit a respectable .282, he suffered a dislocated shoulder early in his junior season that cut his playing time to just 31 official at-bats and a .161 batting average.
“You put all the time and effort into the off-season and then to play only 10 games hurt a lot,” said Giller. “Then I probably tried to come back when I wasn’t 100 percent. When you have a shoulder injury, you start over compensating with your other arm and it just doesn’t work.”
While hitting a lofty .347 this year, Giller says, “I’m still not healthy, but it’s one of those things you work with. I could have had surgery to fix it, but that would have meant missing the fall and winter practices, which would have meant not being prepared for this season. I wasn’t going to do that.”
While playing left field in his sophomore season, he’s now a corner infielder playing third base most of the time, and first base on occasion.
“Third base is still a learning process, but I’m getting there,” said Giller. “You have to know where to be on each batter, each pitch and each count.”
DeBord did have surgery to repair his shoulder, and admits, “It was a long road, but I’m back now.”
Back, and hitting .303 as K-State’s No. 1 designated hitter and No. 2 catcher.
On whether playing on the field as opposed to his role as a DH affects his hitting, DeBord said, “When I was younger I had a hard time separating defense from offense. When you’re catching, you just have to make sure when your bat is off, you’re still in the game mentally making smart decisions and playing quality defense. You have to realize no matter how good, or bad, you’re doing at the plate, you can have a positive influence on the game.”
On occasion, that influence can include calling pitches during the game as opposed to taking signs from the pitching coach stationed in the dugout.
“I enjoy it. It keeps you in the flow of the game and you feel more in control of the game,” said DeBord. “And even if I’m not calling the game, I can give signs to the dugout if I can pick up on what a hitter is doing at the plate or if I feel we have a hitter set up for a certain pitch, or in a certain area.”
With a record of 14-14, K-State takes a break from the Big 12 season this weekend by entertaining Sacred Heart in games starting at 6:30 p.m. tonight, 6:30 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday.
To Giller, they’re not Big 12 games, but they are important games.
“We’re not in a position to take any game off or look ahead to next week,” said Giller, a marketing major at K-State. “We have to get back on track and start a streak going into the rest of the season. We’re trying to take it pitch-by-pitch, and game-by-game.”
For Giller, that’s especially true when, as he says, “I only have two more months of baseball. I just don’t see there being a future in the game for me. You have to be realistic, but it puts a whole new perspective on these last games.”