Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016 — Center Fielders

This is the seventh post in The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team, 1981-2016. Today, we look at center fielders.

To recap how this team was selected, current players and players who finished their eligibility prior to 1981 were not eligible. Players who began their college career before 1981 but finished in 1981, ’82 or ’83 were eligible, with their pre-1981 achievements more or less grandfathered into this. This affected several players from the 1981 and ’82 teams.

At the end of the day, both objective analysis and subjective opinion played a role in determining who made this team. I’ve taken painstaking care in going over this to make sure I’ve included everyone who is worthy. If, however, I left off a deserving name, it was wholly inadvertent. And if your favorite player did not make this team, it was not intended in any way to diminish that player. NC State has had more than its share of great players. I couldn’t list everyone.

Coming Tuesday: Right Fielders.

• Center Field — Brian Bark (1987-90)
Brian Bark set 18 NC State single-season or career records during his four years in Raleigh. He ended his Wolfpack career ranked as the school’s all-time leader with 241 games played, 215 consecutive games played, 980 at-bats, 265 runs scored, 323 hits, 70 doubles, 199 RBIs, 127 walks and 538 total bases. He was second in triples with 11 and fourth in home runs with 41. He set single-season records as well. He set a freshman record when he bashed 11 home runs in 1987. A year later, he set school records with 20 doubles, 83 runs scored and 100 base hits, six of which came in a single NCAA regional game, tying an NCAA Tournament record that still stands. He set a single-season record as a senior in 1990 with 272 at-bats. He was the first NC State player ever to hit 10 or more home runs in a season three times, and still is one of just four ever to do so. A two-way threat, he set NC State single-season records with 11 saves in 1989 and 72 appearances in 1990. He left Raleigh with the career marks for both categories (72 appearances and 20 saves). While most of his records were broken in the ensuing two-plus decades, Bark still ranks near the top of most offensive categories in the school record book. He is second in school history in career at-bats (980); third in runs scored and doubles; fourth in hits, RBIs and total bases; and fifth in walks. He is seventh in home runs and eighth in triples. He still ranks seventh in career pitching appearances and second in saves. His 11 saves in 1989 still tie him for fifth in the school record book. Bark made an immediate impact as a freshman with the Wolfpack in 1987, hitting .351 with 16 doubles, 11 home runs and 49 RBIs, while going 4-2 with a 4.93 ERA on the mound. Bark’s greatest season was in 1988 when he was a sophomore. He batted .388 with 20 doubles, 13 homers and 61 RBIs. He set the aforementioned school records for doubles, runs scored and hits. He struck out just five times in 280 plate appearances. Read that last one again, just in case you missed it. Five strikeouts in 280 plate appearances. That’s one strikeout every 56 times he went to the plate, or once ever 12-14 games. He had a .458 on-base percentage and a .647 slugging percentage, both career highs. The 1988 Wolfpack was the best offensive team in school history. Bark batted second in a lineup that set a slew of school records, including a .345 team batting average, 123 home runs, 9.4 runs per game, and a 1.010 team OPS (on-base plus slugging). Bark’s season hit its zenith on May 27 in the NCAA East Regional in Tallahassee, Fla., when he singlehandedly buried sixth-ranked Florida, going 6-for-6 with a double, two home runs, four runs scored and five RBIs to lead the Wolfpack to a 13-3 rout. He also had a terrific year on the mound, making 12 appearances, 11 of them starts, with a 7-3 record and a 3.78 ERA in a career-high 69 innings. He allowed 61 hits, walked 22 and struck out 53. That, ladies and gentlemen, is one hell of a great year, easily one of the greatest in school history. Bark was not as productive his last two years as he was his first two. Part of that had to do with the team that surrounded him. The Wolfpack lost most of the offensive firepower from its 1988 juggernaut to the draft and graduation. Suddenly, it was easier just to pitch around Bark in tight spots, whereas before it was pretty much impossible. He also assumed a more prominent role on the pitching staff those last two years, going from starter to reliever and more than doubling his appearances on the mound without significantly reducing his workload. He pitched in 22 games as a junior, throwing 43 2/3 innings with a 3-4 record, a 4.95 ERA and a then-school-record 11 saves. A year later he made 27 appearances, five of them starts, and pitched 67 2/3 innings, just four outs short of his career high for innings. He went 4-2 with a 3.46 ERA and nine saves. He appeared in 23 games his first two seasons, 21 of them starts, which has to be easier for a position player because of the routine of starting. He made 49 appearances his last two seasons, only five of them starts. Warm-ups usually consisted of a few long tosses to one of his outfield mates while the coach visited the mound, although he occasionally got to throw in the bullpen between innings. His role was far less certain and far less routine. The only thing he knew for sure was that NC State needed him more than ever, both his bat and his arm. And he delivered. NC State won a combined 63 games in 1989 and ’90, and Bark won or saved 27 of them. At the plate, he batted .325 with 15 doubles, seven homers, 41 RBIs, 34 walks and 15 strikeouts as a junior in 1989. His batting average dipped to .261 as a senior, but he hit 19 doubles and 10 home runs, and drove in 48 runs. He set career highs with 44 walks and 16 stolen bases without being caught (he was 8-for-16 on the bases his first three seasons). Shockingly, Bark never earned All-America honors, but he is one of just four players in conference history to earn first-team All-ACC four times. The Braves drafted Bark as a pitcher in the 12th round in 1990. He reached the big leagues briefly with the Boston Red Sox in 1995. In 2003, he was voted to the ACC’s 50-man 50th Anniversary team.

• Second Team — Matt Camp (2003-06)

Matt Camp played all over the diamond his first two seasons at NC State, playing left field, third base, second base and shortstop before finally finding a home in center field late in his sophomore year. He was a mainstay there the rest of his career, leading off and setting the tone for two of the greatest everyday lineups — 2005 and ’06 —  in NC State history. In ’05, NC State batted .311 with a .405 on-base percentage and a .441 slugging percentage while scoring 7.3 runs per game. The ’06 Wolfpack batted .333 with a .422 OBP and a .482 slugging percentage, scoring 8.5 runs per game. Camp led the Wolfpack in batting three times and sported on-base percentages of .397 or better three times, including a .450 OBP during his standout senior campaign. A .331 career hitter with a .408 OBP and a .413 slugging percentage, Camp still ranks fourth in school history with 973 at-bats and 49 stolen bases, fifth with 216 runs scored and 322 hits, and ninth with 113 walks. He played 245 games, which ranks fourth in school history, and he played the last 233 of those games in a row, which is the school’s second longest consecutive-games-played streak. As a senior, Camp batted .387 with a .450 OBP and a .502 slugging percentage, had 101 hits (3rd most in school history) and 22 doubles, scored 64 runs and drove in 46, walked 31 times and hit six sacrifice flies, all of which were career highs. He earned first-team All-ACC honors, and Collegiate Baseball magazine named him a third-team All-American. With Camp in center field, Jake Muyco (2005) and Caleb Mangum (2006) behind the plate, Ramon Corona at second base and Jonathan Diaz at shortstop, NC State in 2005-06 was peerless defensively up the middle, Gold-Glove caliber at all four positions. Camp ran down everything in sight in center field. He was fearless near the wall yet was always aware of it and seldom made hard contact with it. He had a good throwing arm and always threw to the right base, always hit the cutoff man. And on those teams, with Corona and Diaz manning the middle of the infield, Camp knew — he absolutely knew — that the cutoff man was always going to be in position. Camp and Diaz were perhaps the two smartest players in the same lineup during Elliott Avent’s 20 years as head coach, as close to real coaches on the field as you’ll find. The Chicago Cubs took Camp in the 13th round of the 2006 MLB Draft.

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