College Sports

UK's man in the middle

Chris Wade came into this baseball season battling for playing time.

The University of Kentucky shortstop position came down to the redshirt freshman versus true frosh Chris Bisson.

Wade not only prevailed, but he has also started all 59 games for the NCAA-bound Wildcats (42-17).

“The thing that he's brought to the table, that you don't know until a player gets on the field, is the level of confidence he has in himself and his ability to compete at the highest level,” Coach John Cohen said. “He loves to compete. You see a lot of players who like to compete in practice but, once you get into a game and once they play in front of 10,000 people, it's a different matter. He has proven that he loves to compete and that he excels in those situations.”

Heading into Friday's NCAA Regional at Michigan, Wade is hitting .306 with five homers and 49 RBI.

He is the latest in a long list of home-grown Wildcats, a graduate of Lexington Christian Academy.

Teammates include outfielder Collin Cowgill (Henry Clay) and pitcher Tommy Warner (Lafayette).

Wade's predecessors in the UK middle infield include Andy Green (LCA) and Doug Flynn (Bryan Station).

Both went on to the major leagues.

Both are Wade's cousins.

Both have passed along expert advice.

“Both those guys couldn't rely on talent alone. They had to have a very high baseball IQ to get where they have,” Cohen said. “I think they share a lot of that with (Wade), and I think he's got a very high baseball IQ as well. So it's a great bloodline.”

Wade's family pedigree includes dad Kent, his coach from T-ball on up; mother Brynn, who played tennis for Transylvania; sister Kelley, who played basketball and soccer for Lipscomb University; and sister Kacey, who also played soccer at Lipscomb.

Cohen says that, at 6 feet, 165 pounds, Wade could use another 15 pounds of muscle to boost his power and to endure a 60-game-plus season.

The coach added that Wade's best assets are lateral quickness and arm strength. His hands are “very, very good,” Cohen said.

“I'm really impressed with all facets of his game, especially what happens between his ears,” the coach said. “I think he's got a very bright future.”

Wade lettered four years at LCA, earning academic all-state honors all four seasons. During the Eagles' title season of 2005, he hit .346, with 36 hits, 36 runs, 17 RBI and 14 stolen bases before suffering a knee injury.

Cohen said the injury was a concern, but Wade responded quickly and hasn't lost a step.

As an LCA senior, he batted .388 with 38 hits, 32 runs, four homers, 21 RBI and 14 steals.

Once at UK, he was held out for a year.

“It worked out well because I've gotten to start every game this year,” Wade said. “It's been a good experience to see what the SEC is all about, and now I get to dress and watch and learn and grow for a year, so I think it was a good experience.”

He spent last summer playing in the Western Major Baseball League, batting .266 with a homer, 18 RBI and eight stolen bases.

Now, he's a one-horse daily double. His 23 doubles lead in the Southeastern Conference. Why all the doubles?

“I don't know, man. They've been coming through all year,” Wade said. “I'm just trying to see it and hit it, and they've been finding some gaps.”

Cohen said he's not surprised that Wade is hitting so well, only that he did so from the get-go.

“I thought it would come a little bit later,” Cohen said. “He has done a great job offensively, and he's gotten better as the season's gone on in a lot of ways — situational hitting, getting to the middle of the field, not being strictly a pull guy like he was when he got here. He has really learned some things about his stroke and about the high caliber of college pitching.”

And, although he's always had confidence in himself, Wade has learned that he belongs on UK's starting nine.