By Jim Sumner, GoDuke the Magazine
When opportunity knocks…
You can fill in the rest with your favorite aphorism.
Chris Crabtree’s response was to kick the door down, going from afterthought to most outstanding player of the 2018 Athens Regional.
Crabtree is a Duke freshman, a first baseman by trade, a 6-4, 220-pound lefty.
He’s also a local, a native of Bahama, just north of Durham. He batted .600 for Riverside High School last season and was named conference player of the year.
But his favorite team ignored him. He grew up a fan of the light blue school down the road. But the Tar Heels “didn’t show me any love.”
Crabtree “was always in the mix for that starting job in the fall,” according to coach Chris Pollard. “When we went into the season, there was never a thought that Loperfido would play 60 straight games. But Loperfido never stumbled and Chris never got a lot of opportunities.”
Loperfido hurt a finger in the regular-season finale, at Georgia Tech, and Crabtree filled in, getting two hits as Duke ended a three-game losing streak.
Fast-forward to the Campbell game in the loser’s bracket at Athens, with Duke trailing 8-1. During a lengthy weather delay, designated hitter Mike Rothenberg tightened up and the Blue Devils needed a DH.
“We talked about other options,” Pollard says. But with the Georgia Tech game, “we had a little bit of a sample size.”
Crabtree says he knew he was going in “about a minute before my at-bat. Coach Pollard said, ‘Chris, now is your time.’”
Crabtree had batted 15 times for the season.
He got a hit in his first at-bat against Campbell, then another, then another. The first extra base hit of his college career was a bases-loaded double in the ninth inning, putting Duke ahead 9-8. His first home run came the next day in an elimination game against Troy. He followed with another, driving in five runs against the Trojans. He finished it off with three hits in two wins over Georgia.
Crabtree ended the regional going 10-for-14, with six runs and nine RBI.
He then went 2-for-7 in Lubbock, with two doubles, a run and an RBI.
How did this happen?
“A lot of freshmen check out when they don’t get a lot of playing time,” Pollard said. “Most of them have been the best player on every team they’ve played on and they’ve never had to sit. He was really consistent with his approach and really worked on making improvements over the season.”
Crabtree agreed. “It didn’t happen overnight. A lot of hard work. Sticking with my process, training every day.”
After going 4-for-14 during the regular season and 12-for 21 in the NCAAs, Crabtree ended his rookie year with a .457 average (16-for-35). Classmate Loperfido started all 63 games and topped the club with a .315 average. Pollard says he’ll make sure he finds a way to get both of them on the field at the same time next season.
Something to look forward to.