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Thomas was tightlipped when asked about Wittels‘ legal matters, saying only he has not lost any faith in his shortstop.

“None whatsoever,” Thomas said.

ESPN plans to broadcast FIU’s opening series. Wittels got more media attention than he thought possible last season, and finds himself curtailing use of Facebook and Twitter because wants to keep some sense of privacy.

The constant attention, he says, can be too much.

“You can’t really worry about what people think about you,” Wittels said. “The No. 1 thing I’ve learned throughout this whole thing, really, is that you just have to know who you are and that the people who are around you are your backbone. You’ll have your fans, your haters, all these people … but the people around you are the ones who’ll have your back.”

That includes the FIU clubhouse.

The attention Wittels‘ streak generated last season never seemed to truly bother teammates. The only thing that the Panthers regularly bicker over is the type of music that should blare pregame _ rap, country or reggae.

“We’re focused on the whole team and that’s really what’s important,” Thomas said. “From what I know, they’ve handled it very well. They understand. It’s good for them. It’s good for the program. It’s good for their maturation process as kids and ballplayers to play with a little expectation on them.”

Wittels went through that expectation process last summer.

He grew up in the Miami area, and other than a stint playing summer ball in Virginia in 2009, had not spent extensive time away from home in his life. So his 2010 summer season was about as far from Miami as possible _ in Alaska, 5,000 miles away.

He’s allergic to cats; his host family had them as pets. He felt at times like he needed a break from the whirlwind season. He hit .254 in 32 games. And his hitting streak _ his personal one, anyway _ ended.

But the hair remains.

“I can’t quit,” Wittels said.

FIU will gather Saturday for its annual start-of-season baseball banquet, and Wittels plans to wear his 2010 championship ring. He’s only slipped it on a few times, choosing instead to simply look at it when he needs inspiration for this season.

It’s a reminder of the storybook 2010 and makes him briefly forget everything _ positive and negative _ swirling around him.

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