Sports

How a former Tar Heels baseball star helped develop Pack's ACC freshman of the year

N.C. State’s Patrick Bailey can see the irony in it.

It’s not every day that a former North Carolina baseball star like Scott Bankhead, a recent inductee into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, helps develop a player who signs with the Wolfpack and becomes the 2018 ACC freshman of the year.

When Bailey was first learning about the finer points of playing the position, he attended the N.C. Baseball Academy in Greensboro. It’s owned and operated by Bankhead, who pitched for the Tar Heels and was an All-America before a 10-year career in the major leagues.

“He’d give pitching lessons there, and when I was in the seventh, eighth, ninth grade he’d have college guys come and get lessons from him,” Bailey said. “He’d ask for me to catch, and I was able to catch college pitching.

“It was cool. It was definitely a challenge, but it really helped me, just learning, just being relaxed with catching older guys.”

Bailey is still doing that. With the Wolfpack, it's older players such as senior lefthander Brian Brown, the 2018 ACC pitcher of the year, and graduate Johnny Piedmonte, the towering righthander. And others for the Pack, which is hosting an NCAA regional this week.

“The way he receives the ball is really good,” Brown said. “You couldn’t tell he was a freshman. And hitting from both sides of the plate …”

Bailey, a Greensboro native who played prep baseball at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, became a switch-hitter at 11 after hearing the adage that the fastest way to the big leagues was being a lefty pitcher and the second-fastest a switch-hitting catcher.

Bailey, listed at 6-2 and 192 pounds, has proven he can hit college pitching. He’s batting .316 in 50 games as a freshman, second on the Pack to Josh McLain’s .337. He has 11 homers and 33 RBIs, with a .417 on-base percentage and .579 slugging percentage.

“He gives you a guy you can stick in the middle of the order,” Wolfpack coach Elliott Avert said. “Teams tend to pitch a lot of lefties against us because we can stack three, four lefties in a row (in the order). Bailey gives you a split on that.”

The Pack wasn’t lacking for catchers with sophomore Brad Debo and junior Jack Conley returning this season. Debo, from Durham, was named a 2017 Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball after hitting a team-best .335.

But Bailey has been the man behind the plate most of this season as the Pack has put together a 40-16 record, going 19-11 in the ACC. Staying in the top 10 in the various college polls much the year, N.C. State was picked to host an NCAA regional at Doak Field and opens Friday against Army at 7 p.m.

“To catch as much as he has caught, with Brad Debo and Jack Conley here, two high-level catchers, speaks volumes … for what he has meant to this ball club,” Avert said.

Bailey, who said he’s called “Patty Barrels” by his teammates, doesn’t appear to be the type to seek out the spotlight, saying he has always been an “under-the-radar” type who succeeds through his drive to succeed, his hard work.

“I think the competitive nature of Patrick and the competitive nature of college baseball and especially the ACC has brought out the best in him this year,” Bankhead said. “I think ‘under the radar’ might be a little humble about his abilities. Under the radar maybe from a recruiting standpoint or professional baseball standpoint, just because his bat had not come on like it has this year.

“He always had that type of ability. But as he has gotten bigger and stronger his bat obviously has come around. From a catching standpoint he’s always been on the radar as a guy who was really advanced as a receiver, blocker, thrower.”

Bailey said he once was a fan of another school — he wouldn’t say which one but it might be Bankhead’s alma mater — but liked the feel of the Wolfpack program and what he called the “blue-collar aspect of it.”

"He gives me a hard time sometimes, but it’s kind of cool,” Bailey said. “He never had an influence on where I wanted to play. He respected me, and I have the utmost respect for him. He’s made me who I am today as a baseball player.”

Bailey said he’ll also remember another baseball adage, one that Bankhead passed along.

“He always said there are two types of players in this game, a player who has been humbled and a player who is about to be,” Bailey said. “I’ve always kept that in mind, that no matter what’s happening you have to stay humble, because this game will beat you up.”

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