Florida International baseball player Garrett Wittels has thrust himself into the national spotlight the past few days as he pursues former Oklahoma State star Robin Ventura’s NCAA Division-I career hit streak of 58 games.

    Wittels’  hit streak reached 50 on Thursday.

    Phil Stephenson, a former Wichita State first baseman who played for four years in the major leagues, knows some of the emotions that Wittels is experiencing.

    In 1981, topping out with  a 47-game hitting streak, Stephenson broke Arizona State’s Roger Schmuck’s old NCAA record of 45, set in the early 1970s.

    In 1987, Ventura broke Stephenson’s old NCAA mark of hits in 47 straight games, set in 1981.

Wittels moved into No. 2 on the list, surpassing Stephenson last Friday.

    Rewind to the spring of 1981.


Florida International baseball player Garrett Wittels has thrust himself into the national spotlight the past few days as he pursues former Oklahoma State star Robin Ventura’s NCAA Division-I career hit streak of 58 games.
    Wittels’  hit streak reached 50 on Thursday.
    Phil Stephenson, a former Wichita State first baseman who played for four years in the major leagues, knows some of the emotions that Wittels is experiencing.
    In 1981, topping out with  a 47-game hitting streak, Stephenson broke Arizona State’s Roger Schmuck’s old NCAA record of 45, set in the early 1970s.
    In 1987, Ventura broke Stephenson’s old NCAA mark of hits in 47 straight games, set in 1981.
Wittels moved into No. 2 on the list, surpassing Stephenson last Friday.
    Rewind to the spring of 1981.
     Stephenson, currently the head baseball coach at Dodge City Community College and the general manager of the Dodge City Athletics, was a junior on a star-studded Wichita State lineup that also featured future World Series hero Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays (1993).
    Batting over .500 for much of the season, Stephenson went on a hitting binge during his junior campaign while he was in the midst of a record-setting college career with the Shockers.
    “The biggest thing about it, it really didn’t become noticeable until it got to about 30,” Stephenson said of his streak. “College baseball wasn’t very-well covered, except locally by the Wichita paper. There wasn’t a lot of hoopla about it until it got to the 30s. For most of the streak, most of the hits came in the first or second at-bat.                “It kind of takes the pressure off of it when you don’t have it coming up to your last at-bat. There were a couple of times, I think the streak was around 31 or 32, and we were playing down in Oklahoma City and I got a hit in the last at-bat to keep it going. We were pretty good. We beat up a lot of people, and you had to get those hits early to keep it going.”
    A perennial powerhouse, coached by the legendary Gene Stephenson, Phil’s older brother, the Shockers’ 1981 team advanced to the NCAA Tournament (Atlantic Regional) and finished 56-15.  The memorable campaign also produced Wichita State’s first multi first- team All-Americans — Carter and Stephenson.
    In 2007, the left-handed-hitting Stephenson was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.
    Carter, who left WSU after his junior year, was named as College Player of the Year  by The Sporting News magazine. He is most famous for hitting a dramatic three-run home run in the ninth inning off Philadelphia reliever Mitch Williams, clinching the 1993 World Series for the Blue Jays.                                                                             

     Stephenson, who played in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres (1989-92), finished up at WSU in 1982, setting in motion a minor-league journey over the next seven years before he ultimately landed in the majors.
    That was long after his streak with the Shockers reached 30, then 35, then 40 and finally ... 47.    
    “You think about it,” he said of his mindset during his streak, “but once the game starts, you’re in the game ... just playing. You don’t really think about it, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get a hit to keep the streak going.’ I think about what I have to do in whatever the situation might be. Really, the game part of it takes over.
    “If you start thinking about, ‘I gotta do it now, I gotta do it now,’ it won’t happen. If you play within the concept of the game, that takes over.”
    He finally caught up with Schmuck at 45, and then added two more to his record.
    “Hits happened in the first at-bat or second at-bat,” Stephenson said. “It was pretty similar to that the whole time.
    “It helps, too, when you’re surrounded by a lot of good players because I had a guy by the name of Joe Carter hitting behind me. You’re going to get pitches to hit because they don’t want to pitch to him, either.”
    On Thursday morning, there it was on SportsCenter on ESPN. The list of the top three hit streaks in NCAA Division-I history: Robin Ventura, Garrett Wittels and Phil Stephenson and their aforementioned numbers.
    “Obviously, he has the ability to put the bat on the ball and is having success doing it,” Stephenson said of Wittels. “It just takes one bad day or one unlucky day for it to come to an end and that’s how it happened with me.
    “Mine came to an end against Oklahoma State in a night game at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium (in Wichita). I walked the first time up and hit a one-hopper to the second baseman and then lined out to third, with the guy making a leaping play.
    “The last at-bat, it was a line drive to right and the guy dove and caught it. That was a nine-inning game, and my last at-bat came in the seventh and we never got another chance after that. I got four at-bats and that was the end of it. It was frustrating, but could have I done anything more?    Probably not. I had four good at-bats in the game, and sometimes that’s just the way it falls. Robin Ventura just had one of those incredible streaks and he had a day during the College World Series, where he was similar to mine where you hit the ball hard and it just happens to be right at people on that particular day and you couldn’t buy a break when you needed it.”
    Stephenson, a Guthrie, Okla., native, said he recalls being more miffed about having his season batting average fall below .500 on the ill-fated day when he didn’t get a hit.
    “I was upset that the streak had ended, but I was probably more upset that I was having a pretty good year at that point and I was still hitting .500,” Stephenson said. “That was the first time in the season that I had dropped below .500 and I finished the season hitting .443.”
    Stephenson said he sent a telegram to Ventura, when Ventura eclipsed his mark six years later.
    “I was playing with the Iowa Cubs (in the minor leagues),” Stephenson said. “When Ventura broke my record, I was actually playing in Oklahoma City and this was the age before cell phones or the internet or any of that stuff.
    “I sent a telegram to him, similar to what Roger had done for me, when I broke his record back in 1981. It’s nice to get your name in the headlines a little bit and I have gotten quite a few phone calls from different people. It’s been 29, almost 30 years, and when I left college, I held 13 NCAA (hitting) records and most people don’t have any recollection of that.”

NCAA Division-I Baseball
career hit streaks
    1987 —  Robin Ventura, Oklahoma State, 58
    2010 —  Garrett Wittels, Florida International, 50
    1981 — Phil Stephenson, Wichita State, 47

STEPHENSON FILE

     PHIL STEPHENSON was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 1983 Major League Baseball Draft by the Oakland Athletics. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs, and made his debut with them in 1989. That September, he was traded to the San Diego Padres, and finished his major-league career with them. ... Stephenson managed in the minor leagues for two seasons in the mid-1990s, winning a league championship with the independent Abilene Prairie Dogs in 1996.
    June 8, 1981 — Drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 5th round of the 1981 amateur draft, but did not sign.
    June 7, 1982 — Drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 3rd round of the 1982 amateur draft.
    Jan. 17, 1986 —Traded by the Oakland Athletics with Bob Bathe (minors) to the Chicago Cubs for Gary Jones (minors) and John Cox (minors).
    Sept. 5, 1989 — Sent by the Chicago Cubs to the San Diego Padres to complete an earlier deal made on August 30, 1989. The Chicago Cubs sent a player to be named later, Calvin Schiraldi, and Darrin Jackson to the San Diego Padres for Marvell Wynne and Luis Salazar. The Chicago Cubs sent Phil Stephenson (September 5, 1989) to the San Diego Padres to complete the trade.
    Dec. 20, 1991 — Granted Free Agency.
    Jan. 30, 1992 — Signed as a Free Agent with the San Diego Padres.
    Oct. 8, 1992 — Released by the San Diego Padres.
    1996 Manager of the Year:  (Abilene Prairie Dogs of the Texas-Louisiana League)
    2007 Inductee —  National College Baseball Hall of Fame