MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Brandon White had yet to play his first game for West Virginia when it was clear that he wasn’t your average center fielder. Or even your mere above-average center fielder.
“That guy walked on his freshman year here and basically was a walking highlight reel during fall ball,” said Mountaineers junior pitcher Alek Manoah. “There were balls that were hit that the left fielder was jogging to because there was no shot. And then Brandon comes out of nowhere from 150 feet away to make a diving catch.
“Coach Mazey was like ‘If this guy just hits .200, he’ll start.’”
White has done that and a whole lot more offensively with a three-year career .283 batting average and .385 on-base percentage. But it’s what he does with his glove that makes him one of the most respected players in the Big 12.
“If they hit a ball and it goes in the direction of center field, Brandon White is a game-changer,” said West Virginia coach Randy Mazey. “That guy has saved us multiple runs in multiple games. He’s as good a center fielder as I’ve ever coached.”
The Big 12 tournament was a showcase for White’s skill set. He had a pair of acrobatic catches in WVU’s second-round win over Texas Tech, including one that robbed the Red Raiders of a game-tying extra-base hit. The day before, he crashed into the wall to rob Kansas of extra bases. The defense was instrumental in White getting a nod on the all-tournament team.
“He basically got us to the championship game,” Manoah said.
It’s gotten to the point that Manoah is much more surprised when White doesn’t come down with a ball.
“Sometimes you take it for granted,” Manoah said. “Every time a ball goes up, you’re like ‘B-White has got it.’ Then one falls and you’re like ‘Dammit man, why didn’t you catch it?’ and he’s like ‘I can’t catch everything.’”
It’s not for a lack of trying. White is a firm believer in practicing how you play, so even in meaningless intrasquad scrimmages he is throwing caution to the wind.
“Coach Mazey yells ‘Lay out!’ every time,” White said. “So we’re always practicing that way.”
White is not one to brace himself for his falls.
“I just go out and try to catch it,” he said. “How I land is how I land.”
White began playing in the outfield based on a hunch by his high school coach. It ended up being a pretty good one.
“When I got moved to the outfield in high school, it came natural to me and I had a lot of fun doing it,” White said. “I want to do it a long time. I had a very smart coach. He wanted to move me out there because I could move pretty fast.”
White’s athleticism should come as little surprise given the sturdiness of the branches on his family tree. His dad, Curtis, is a former Florida football player who backed up Emmitt Smith in the Gators’ backfield. One of his cousins is Noel Devine, who rushed for 4,315 yards at West Virginia from 2007-10.
Family connections also helped cement West Virginia as White’s choice out of high school even though the Mountaineers had not played in a regional since 1996.
“I grew up always being a WV fan,” White said. “My mom went here. My uncle, my cousin. I always wanted to come here. It was my first choice growing up. I’ve had sweatshirts ever since I was a little kid. It was always my dream to come play for the Mountaineers.”
Now, White heads into West Virginia’s first home postseason games since 1955 with a new dream to achieve – the College World Series.
“It’s been a great ride,” he said. “And hopefully we can keep going and take it to Omaha.”