MIAMI (CBS4) – Florida International University sought to put a veil of secrecy around shortstop Garrett Wittels during his media day appearance Wednesday. But Wittels decided instead of hiding that he’d come out and face the music head on.
Wittels has received clearance from FIU officials to play in the upcoming season, which starts Friday against Southeastern Louisiana. Wittels will resume his pursuit of Robin Ventura’s all-time Division I hit-streak record of 58 games.
But Wittels also face rape charges in the Bahamas and the school sought to prevent the gathered media from asking any questions about the charges. Wittels addressed them himself to start out the press conference and said when he goes to bed at night, he knows what happened in the Bahamas.
Wittels though is committed to separating himself from the legal trouble and concentrating completely on baseball.
“I’m just worried about strikes and balls, wins and losses right now,” Wittels said. “And we’ll be ready to go Friday night.”
Wittels has hit safely in 56 consecutive games and is the preseason pick to be the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Year. FIU is receiving national attention from ESPN, which will televise each of Wittels at-bats Friday as he attempts to move closer to Ventura’s record.
Other schools, like Florida State University, automatically suspends players who are charged with a felony from participating in athletics. But FIU said they were undeterred in their support of Wittels.
“We believe you are innocent until proven guilty,” FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said. “Therefore, Garrett will be playing.”
Wittels faces right-hander Brandon Efferson of SE Louisiana in the opener. Efferson was 8-4 last season with a 4.10 ERA. JUCO transfer right-hander Joseph Koon starts Saturday and right-hander Tyler Watkins will start on Sunday. Watkins will be pitching if Wittels has a chance to break the record on Sunday.