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FIU's Turtle quick to praise Wittels

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Garrett Wittels is a national - or at least a South Florida - phenomenon.

The FIU infielder met the press Tuesday, as reporters from both local newspapers and seemingly every television station swarmed him, speaking about his school-record 42-game hitting streak.

Of course, we at the Miami Herald have been all over this story for a while, so I decided to take a different approach.

I wanted to see what makes him tick.

The answer: An undying drive to succeed and nerves of steel, the result of years of intense mental conditioning by his dad.

The whole scoop is here.

One person not quoted in the piece was Panthers coach Turtle Thomas. But he had plenty to say about the streak Tuesday - including a pitch for Wittels to be named the Sun Belt player of the year.

Q: On the streak possibly being at 49 games, if he hadn't pinch-hit Wittels in the conference tournament last year:

TT: "You know, I'll be honest with you. The coach at FIU isn't real smart. Y'all probably didn't know that until right now. But that's for sure. Until this past week, when Arkansas State, when our SID, Mat Ratner, told me, I had no idea I was that dumb last year. But you can't look in your crystal ball and figure those things out. If we could, we'd probably win every game, because you'd know when to call a hit-and-run or when to sacrifice bunt or when to make a pitch a certain way, whatever it may be."

Q: On the level of exposure this has brought the team:

TT: "Even if you get negative publicity, publicity, we feel like, is always good, regardless. With him doing as good as he's doing and with all the things that have happened, it certainly is good for our program. This school became a four-year school in 1982. We're a very new, young school. We're not like a hundred-some years old like all of these other universities are. It's good that we get as much publicity as possible."

Q: On the lift Wittels has provided the school, after the Kendall Berry murder:

TT: "That was an unbelievable tragedy. We were on the road at the time and when our players heard about it that night, no one could believe what happened. We still feel bad to this day, and we'll feel for a long time. But things that are positive around FIU - football's no the rise, basketball's certainly on the rise, all of our programs in the athletic department, and the school itself, academically, where we rank in many different fields - everything is moving up and getting better every single year. Something like this is nothing but a positive for our school."

Q: If Wittels should be conference player of the year:

TT: "That's a good question. I haven't even thought about that. I guess I'd have to do some thinking. Of course, we haven't seen FAU or South Al yet, so I think I could probably answer that question a lot better once we play six more regular season games. I think even if it stopped on Friday night, I think he would get at least very, very strong consideration, no question."


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