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May 5, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Like most athletes, Pratt Maynard of NC State’s baseball team welcomes the support of his family, especially when they watch and cheer from the stands.
And in Maynard’s case, it doesn’t hurt to have a sheriff backing him up.
Maynard is a junior catcher for the Wolfpack. He is enjoying his finest season, hitting .341 with three home runs and 34 RBIs as the Pack heads into a weekend series against non-conference foe East Tennessee State.
He is tied for the team lead in RBI, leads with 16 doubles and is second with 27 walks and a .426 on-base percentage. Maynard’s offense and defense have been crucial to the Pack turning around a slow start. At one point State was 10-10 overall but has improved to 26-19. More important, it has improved its ACC mark from 5-10 to 11-13 with a sweep of North Carolina and a win at No. 1 Virginia.
“I just think we’ve been playing better baseball,” Maynard said. “We’re playing better defense, our pitching is coming along and our hitting is coming along. We’re scoring runs, the pitching is doing the job by not giving up (many) runs and our defense is helping the pitchers.”
Many players have contributed to the turnaround. Chris Diaz is hitting .344, Harold Riggins is at .307, Matt Bergquist has 34 RBIs, Andrew Ciencin has five homers and pitcher Rob Chamra is 7-0, including 4-0 since he was converted to a starter.
Maynard has probably been the Pack’s most consistent player, not only for his hitting but also for his work behind the plate. That’s even more impressive because he had never caught prior to his freshman season.
Assistant coach Chris Hart said Maynard’s excellent arm and natural leadership were reasons for the switch. He was worked in slowly, catching some during his first two seasons but also playing other positions and serving as the designated hitter. This season, he’s the starting catcher.
“He still has a lot to learn as a catcher,” said assistant coach Chris Hart, “but he has been doing a good job considering he probably hadn’t caught more than 50 games prior to this season. He’s got a good arm and has a lot of team spirit. That’s why we made him a catcher.”
Maynard played third base and pitched at South Granville High School. It had never occurred to him to be a catcher before he arrived at State.
“When they told me, I just thought it would be a quicker way to get on the field and play college ball,” he said, “and that’s what I wanted to do. I tried it and have been working hard at it ever since.”
He credits Hart, who did some catching at Florida State, and fellow Wolfpack catchers Chris Schaeffer and Danny Canela for helping him learn the finer points of the difficult position.
“I had to learn how to receive the ball, how to block the ball, just fundamental things that I had to focus on because I hadn’t been doing it my whole life,” Maynard said. “I had to get a really good grasp of the fundamentals so I could move forward as a catcher.”
A catcher is a natural focal point for the team, and he has to know how to handle pitchers, especially when things aren’t going well.
“I’d say I just try to be positive,” Maynard said about working with pitchers. “Don’t go out there (to the mound) in a bad way; that’s not the way to do it. Go out there and try to work with them, try to figure out what they’re doing wrong, what they’re doing right and help them do the things right.
“As a teammate, I feel like my job is to go out there and play hard every day. Not rah-rah stuff, yelling and all that, just lead by example.”
Maynard took to baseball at an early age. His father played catch with him and made sure he got all the batting practice he needed. His mother watched and supported him through his days of youth leagues, travel teams and now college ball.
Another ardent supporter is his grandfather, Worth Hill, who remembers Maynard showing talent and knowledge of the game early on.
“To be honest with you, from day one as a youngster, 5 or 6 years old … he was just a natural,” Hill said. “He knew what the game was all about.
“He was very aggressive in our backyard, even before he started playing some organized ball. He had a plastic bat and he could hit the ball even then.”
If Hill’s name sounds familiar, by the way, it’s probably because he’s the sheriff of Durham County. After a brief career in football at North Carolina, he left school and became a police officer in 1959, eventually ascending to his current office. He’s now serving his fifth term.
Hill has always attended as many of Maynard’s games as he could and sees him play for NC State whenever possible. Naturally, he passed along some wisdom.
“I tried to give him advice along the way,” Hill said. “The main thing is, you just go this route one time, so give it all you can at that time, not only in playing sports but with your schoolwork.
“He’s been a dedicated person, he’s got a good work ethic in his baseball career, he even pushes some of his friends to go work out. I was always proud of that because he’s really put forth a good effort to become what he has. He’s just an outstanding young man, that’s what I’m mostly proud of.”
Maynard said his grandfather has been a significant influence on him.
“He’s been there for me all my life,” he said. “I can tell by his character that he’s the type of person I wanted to be. He’s well-respected throughout North Carolina.
“It’s a great experience to have someone like that to look up to, along with my father and my mother, also. They made certain there was a right way to live life.”
Maynard’s work ethic has not gone unnoticed by others. Through healthier eating and work in the weight room, he has changed his body into a solid 210 pounds.
“Number one (about Maynard) is how hard that guy has worked over the last several years,” Hart said. “When we recruited him he was overweight but he has worked to improve his body.
“Same thing about hitting. He has changed his swing and understands what it takes to be a good hitter at this level. He’s always had the plate discipline and never swings at bad pitches.”
Plate discipline has always been one of Maynard’s strengths. Last season he drew 64 walks, setting a Wolfpack record and tying for second in the NCAA. His on-base percentage was an impressive .455.
This season, with a change in college bats that has cut down on their power, pitchers have been more aggressive in throwing strikes. Maynard’s walks are down, but he is hitting good pitches. His average is up 68 points from last season.
“I just try to go up there, get my pitch and try to put a good swing on it,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve developed playing baseball – try to swing at good pitches.
“I’ve been working on my overall swing, trying to make it more consistent, a better swing through the years. It’s come a long way and this year has been more consistent than other years and hopefully will stay consistent the rest of the year.”
Maynard is aware that pro scouts are looking closely at him and that he should be drafted after this season. He admits he has thought about it, but it doesn’t distract from his task at hand.
“Everybody is very positive and working hard with one goal in mind,” he said, “and that’s to finish out the regular season, do well in the ACC Tournament and then move on from there. I think we have a great shot at going to the College World Series and being competitive.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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