With the baseball hurling toward him, Kyle Whitten’s reflexes kicked in automatically. The Osbourn Park High School graduate ducked his head and put his glove in front of his face.
But no matter how hard he tried to totally move out of the way, a collision was inevitable. No one avoids contact with an object travelling 103 miles per hour over a distance of just 60 feet, six inches. Doing so would defy some law of physics. And Whitten was no exception.
It was the evening of July 3 and with his parents watching their son play for the first time in a Cape Cod Baseball League game for host Hyannis, Whitten fell to the ground and lay on his back after the ball smacked into the center of his head just above the bill of his baseball cap.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Whitten was aware of his surroundings. He knew what pitch he’d thrown (an outside fastball) and acknowledged his mother in the dugout after she checked in to see if he recognized her.
Still, the attention embarrassed Whitten, especially after he was strapped to a portable chair that someone pushed up the hill toward the ambulance. The incident also raised the question of whether Whitten’s first season in the CCBL was finished courtesy of a fluke play.
No one could blame him if he went home to Manassas, rested up and got ready for his junior year at the University of Virginia.
Even Hyannis head coach Chad Gassman half expected Whitten to leave after visiting him in the hospital. Whitten was diagnosed with a concussion after all. Was it worth sticking around for only a few more weeks of competition where he pitched at the most one inning every four or five days?
In Whitten’s mind, there was only one choice.
He checked with his coaches at Virginia who were fine with him staying. That reinforced his desire to remain with Hyannis as well. Once he was cleared to play, he returned to the mound.
“I’m a big believer that when you commit to something you stick it out,” Whitten said. “I told [Hyannis] I was playing with them the whole summer. I wanted to keep pitching and not take the easy way out.”
The opportunity to compete in the nation’s top collegiate summer baseball league was another reason he stayed. Each outing resembled an all-star game where the best of the best faced off against each other.
“I’ve been wanting to play here my whole life,” Whitten said. “I was not going to let that be taken away from me.”
It didn’t matter that his numbers as a reliever were sub-par. He chalked that up to what he called “broken bat” plays.
“They haven’t been hitting me hard,” said Whitten who is 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA, nine strikeouts and 12 walks in 13.2 innings. “I feel like I have been pitching more aggressive. There have been some tough breaks.”
Whitten is good at blocking out distractions or painful situations. Part of that is his unflappable personality.
As a senior at Osbourn Park, he dislocated his shoulder in a game, but remained in the lineup after the trainer popped the shoulder back in place.
This season at Virginia, he bounced back from a dismal performance against Liberty where he gave up three earned runs and recorded no outs to closing two days later against Georgia Tech. Whitten remained in that role and led the Cavaliers with nine saves for the season.
“I try and not live and die by every outing,” said Whitten who has been throwing in the low to mid 90’s. “Try and control what I can control and let the rest fall into place.”
That approach applies as well to dealing with the scouts. Whitten is draft-eligible next June, meaning scouts are watching him more closely. Based on his experience in high school, where he attracted attention from major-league teams only to tell them he was going to Virginia, Whitten understands the process well enough to know scouts look beyond the stats. They are looking at other factors, including emotional and physical makeup.
Case in point: A New York Yankees scout at the Cape remembered watching Whitten at Osbourn Park and noticed how much Whitten had filled out, especially in his lower body.
“That means a lot to me,” Whitten said.
So did hearing from Austin Wells.
Playing for Yarmouth-Dennis, Wells hit the ball that knocked Whitten down. Able to locate Whitten’s cell-phone number, Wells called Whitten the next morning to check in and see how he was doing. The gesture touched Whitten and they continue to stay in contact.
“It was a weird way for a friendship to start,” Whitten said.
Through all the ups and downs, Whitten said his Christian faith keeps him grounded. He began a personal relationship with Jesus Christ after his grandmother Bootsie Austin gave him a Bible for his 16th birthday. Whitten had always gone to church, but after digging into the Bible a new world with deeper understandings opened up to him and his perspective on life shifted.
He said he reads his well-worn and marked-up Bible three to four chapters a day. He also converses constantly with his older sister Taylor as they each share what they’ve learned from scripture. He sees an opportunity to use baseball as a way to show God’s purpose especially to spread His word more.
“My faith is what keeps me level-headed,” Whitten said. “My faith is who I am and I live by that.”