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FIU’s Wittels trying to keep focus on baseball
MIAMI (AP) - Florida International shortstop Garrett Wittels still needs a haircut.
He’s been tempted over the past eight months. The dark locks now extend well below the helmet of college baseball’s reigning hit king. But superstitions are superstitions, and Wittels vowed not to get them trimmed until his 56-game hitting streak _ still going from last season _ ends.
“Gets annoying sometimes,” Wittels said, tugging one of his curls. “But it’s not that bad.”
Hair, Wittels can laugh about.
But there’s more hanging over him than that.
Wittels‘ status for the Feb. 18 start of FIU’s season _ when he was to resume pursuit of Robin Ventura’s 58-game Division I record streak set in 1987 _ is unclear, after he was charged in a rape case in the Bahamas in December.
The university’s decision on his status is expected next week, although the charge will likely be pending for several months.
Wittels declined to discuss specifics of the case in an interview with The Associated Press, on advice of his attorneys. He was freed on $10,000 bond and allowed to return home without entering a plea. Bahamian officials do not plan to begin a preliminary evidentiary inquiry until April.
“The day that everything came out, that was the hardest day of my life,” Wittels said.
He is accused of forcing sex on a 17-year-old girl. The age of consent in the Bahamas is 16. Wittels was with a group of friends, some of whom were charged raping both the female who accused Wittels and another 17-year-old as well.
“I just put myself in a bad situation,” Wittels said.
Coaches and close friends say that when Wittels is on the field or in the batting cage these days, he seems the way he was last season. Wittels batted .412, was the Sun Belt Conference’s player of the year _ he was tabbed Friday as the preseason pick to win that award again _ and helped FIU reach the NCAA tournament.
When the streak was in jeopardy, he was at his best, going 7-for-7 in situations where he was down to his final at-bat without a hit.
For someone who hit .246 in 2009, last season was more than a breakthrough.
“He’s handled it like an absolute champ,” FIU coach Turtle Thomas said. “He is solid as a rock between his ears. He’s been raised to expect to do well and be the best and practice hard, play hard. He’s been raised to be a winner. And he’s clutch. It could end Feb. 18 or it could go a long time into 2011.”
By Tom Fitton
New photos confirm the attack's coordination and its cover-up
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