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Hiser finds home away from home

May 15, 2004|By BOB PARASILITI

If P.J. Hiser ever feels lost, all he has to do is step on the University of Pittsburgh baseball field to get his bearings.

"When I look around and see a guy in the bullpen throwing 95 mph, I know I'm not in Hagerstown anymore," he said.

Hiser has come a long way since leaving Hagerstown to play Division I college baseball at Pittsburgh. He left two years ago after two standout seasons at Hagerstown Community College, which followed his graduation from South Hagerstown High School and selection in the 42nd round of the 2001 Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Since then, the Washington County star has become almost universal. Hiser, 23, has grown into a multifaceted All-American for the Panthers, leading Pitt in a number of hitting and pitching categories while becoming one of the frontrunners for the Big East Player of the Year honor.

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And with it all, Hiser has rounded himself into a possible major commodity in the June 7 draft pool.

"It's overwhelming," Hiser said. "No one expects you to do all of this. You don't expect yourself to do it all."

In reality, though, it became a matter of what Hiser expected of himself that transformed him from being a local phenom into one of the top collegiate players in the country. Hiser was named as one of the 30 semifinalists for the Dick Howser Award, which honors college baseball's national player of the year.

"I had to have some confidence," Hiser said. "After my first trip to Florida (with Pittsburgh), I got my confidence. Everyone here was throwing hard, it was just a matter of getting in there. I found out I just had to do my thing. I always have to play hard."

Hiser's focus has helped make him a force in the Big East, where Pittsburgh is tied for the league lead with a 15-5 record and is 35-12 overall through Wednesday.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Hiser leads the Big East in four categories - home runs (19), RBI (57), total bases (134) and slugging percentage (.798). He is in the top five in hitting at .369, giving Hiser the chance to win the Triple Crown. He is in the Top 10 in nine offensive categories.

It has all added up to three Big East Player of the Week honors and some all-American accolades.

Needless to say, Hiser leads Pittsburgh in six offensive categories (slugging percentage, RBI, home runs, total bases, stolen base percentage and strikeouts), is second in four others and in the team's top five in 18 of 25 categories. He is perfect at stealing bases (15 of 15) and has yet to commit an error this season as an outfielder.

All this comes with Hiser recovering from a broken pinky finger he suffered three games into the 2003 season. He redshirted last year and took a second shot at his senior season.

"Things are going well," he said. "In fact, they might be going better since I broke the pinky."

The only breaks Hiser has been taking advantage of have been the ones he has made for himself. Once he realized he could play on the Division I level, he resolved to do what it takes to stay there.

"I've had my ups and downs, but I'm down on the field everyday," he said. "I'll go down and hit off a tee, find someone to throw with or work on some pitches. I hardly take a day off."

And if Hiser's offensive numbers aren't enough, he's the closest thing the Panthers have to "Double Trouble." Hiser is also one of Pittsburgh's top pitchers this season, which only enhances his standing in the amateur draft.

Hiser was all-everything as a hitter in high school and HCC. When he went to Pittsburgh, he became a pitcher.

"They saw that I threw hard," Hiser said. "After I broke my finger, I was just going to pitch. I was interested in it, but I prefer to hit."

Hiser has been equally as successful on the mound. He is 5-0 in 14 appearances, including 10 starts, and has one save. The right-hander carries a 3.90 ERA in 60 innings with 22 walks and 47 strikeouts.

"I try to be more aggressive on the mound," Hiser said. "I don't want to get hit. I'm just trying to keep the team in the game. I've had a couple of games where I have hit and I have pitched well here. I said to myself, 'This isn't so different after all.' You see freshmen come in here and have trouble. It's all confidence. You just have to get used to it."

Even with the draft looming just three weeks away, Hiser is keeping his mind on the task at hand. Pittsburgh is in prime position to win the Big East crown and could move on to the College World Series, if it is fortunate in the upcoming tournaments.

"I'm just focused on what we want to do," he said. "We want to win the regular season Big East title. We want to win it and take it to the playoffs and just go from there. We are all together and a scrappy team from top to bottom."

But from here on out, one thing is for sure about P.J. Hiser's baseball future.

It may have all started in Hagerstown, but he's not here anymore.

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