Some freshman athletes make the adjustment from high school to college faster than others. For NC State baseball player Tommy White, the transition took exactly one pitch.
After taking a ball out of the strike zone, the solidly built first baseman sent a towering home run over the center field wall on his first swing as a member of the Wolfpack. He followed that up with two more homers, also to the deepest part of the ballpark.
The display of raw power in his college debut didn’t just help State to a 23-4 season-opening victory against Evansville on Friday, it put him into the record books as the first Wolfpack player since Chris Schaeffer in 2010 to hit three round-trippers in a single game.
So much for the first game jitters
“It’s unreal,” White said after the game, in which he went 5 for 6 with six RBIs and five runs scored. “I was just hoping to get my first hit. I was just seeing the ball well. It was a fun experience all around.”
As for those jitters, White admitted he wasn’t as calm and collected as his results at the plate might suggest.
“I was super nervous,” he said, adding that coach Elliott Avent and assistant Chris Hart told him to “stay calm, play the game you’ve been playing since you were 10 years old and do what you’ve always done.”
White followed the advice to the letter.
A physically mature beyond his years 6-foot-2, 242-pound first baseman, the St. Pete Beach, Florid, native has long been known for his ability to hit the baseball a long way.
Described by ProspectsLive.com as perhaps “the best pure prep hitter in the 2021 class,” White earned high school All-American honors at IMG Academy and won a home run derby in Frisco, Texas, in October 2020 on the way to being ranked as the No. 18 overall prospect nationally by Perfect Game.
He’s certainly lived up to the hype thus far.
White followed up his smashing debut by hitting homers in the next two games, including a grand slam on Saturday, to lead State to a series sweep of the Aces. He went 9 for 14 for the weekend with five homers, 12 RBIs and seven runs scored, a performance that won him player of the week honors from both the ACC and Collegiate Baseball.
An even more significant honor came in Saturday’s game. In his next at-bat after his grand slam, Evansville intentionally walked him.
“I’ve said he’s as good of a freshman hitter as we’ve ever had here since I’ve been here,” Avent said after Friday’s 24-6 victory. “He’s just got great power. He’s a good hitter. He’s a good player. He’s got a great feel for the game. He’s a baseball player. He loves to play, loves to compete. But even with those things, (what he’s done is) pretty remarkable.”
His performance on the field notwithstanding, the fact that he’s even on campus playing for the Wolfpack is somewhat remarkable in itself.
White was projected as a potential high-round pick in last June’s MLB Draft. But because of a stated desire to play college ball and a high financial figure that scared teams away, he went unselected.
Having committed to the Wolfpack early, he was anything but disappointed.
“NC State was everything to me,” he said. “As a sophomore I committed here, and it just felt like home right away. Being from St. Pete, Florida, it’s a lot different being far away from home. This just felt like home.”
He’s already made a favorable impression on his new teammates.
“Man, that kid can play,” senior second baseman J.T. Jarrett said. “I’m obviously happy he’s on my team.”
White’s bat is one of several new pieces inserted into a Wolfpack lineup that saw six position players from last year’s College World Series team move on to the professional ranks.
While his first weekend in red and white was the most memorable, it was hardly the only encouraging performance. Overshadowed by White’s three-homer opener was a pair of long balls by Charlotte transfer Dominic Pilolli. Two other transfers, Josh Hood (Penn) and LuJames Groover (Charlotte), also had five or more hits during the weekend.
Their additions are a big reason why the Wolfpack entered the new season ranked among the top 10 in multiple national polls.
The first three games did nothing to lessen those expectations. In fact, they far exceeded those of a certain freshman slugger.
“It’s not what I expected,” White said. “I expected just to have fun and get my feet wet in college baseball. It’s a great debut.”