BYU baseball Stephen Wells: the black hole in centerfield

By Steven McCall

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, March 15 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

BYU centerfielder Stephen Wells

Jon Hardy, BYU

Enlarge photo»

Playing professional sports is the dream of thousands of children throughout the world. These dreams and visions are no different for BYU centerfielder Stephen Wells.

Visions of hitting a walk-off homerun to win the World Series, catching the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bow, or draining a last-second, three-point shot to win the NBA finals plays through the minds of every aspiring athlete.

“As a kid I always wanted to play professional sports,” Wells said. “ I didn’t care which sport, I just wanted to play.”

Wells, a 5-foot-11, 186-pound senior from Kenmore, Wash., was self-motivated and played sports year-round in order to improve his skills. However, it was through the discipline of setting and accomplishing goals that he developed Division I talent. He has a current 10-game hitting streak and ended his freshman season with a 15-game hitting streak. Wells was among the NCAA outfield leaders with nine assists.

In high school, Wells was a standout in both football and baseball. He was voted all-league his sophomore and junior seasons as a defensive back and he lettered three times in baseball. However, because of his size, he felt baseball fit him better.

“I always wanted to go to BYU since I was younger,” Wells said. “I actually wanted to play football at BYU, but I was better at baseball.”

During his junior year of high school, Wells began to get serious about playing collegiate baseball. He played in a summer ball league where he excelled both at the plate and in the field. Due to his successes, a few schools began recruiting him. BYU was at the top of his interest list.

One break came for Wells through the University of Washington coaches who knew he was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Huskies did not want him breaking up playing seasons with a two-year mission, so the UW coaches called BYU and let the coaches there know about Wells and his talent.

Following calls from both the University of Washington and Wells’ high school coach, coaches from BYU flew to Portland to watch Wells play in a summer tournament. It was then Wells’ childhood dreams began to turn into reality.

“Coach (Ryan) Roberts came and respected my coach’s opinion, and they offered me a scholarship,” Wells said. “I don’t think I did that well, but I guess he liked how I played.”

Coming to BYU, Wells had several personal goals he set for himself. Hitting .400 and making it into the starting lineup were both goals he hoped to accomplish during his first season at BYU. However, when he first arrived, Wells was at the bottom of the depth chart for outfielders.

Through several twists of fate, Wells cracked the starting lineup early in the season and took flight. During his freshman campaign, he hit .371 with nine doubles and 11 stolen bases. He was named to the Mountain West Conference All-Tournament Team, Academic All-MWC and was Honorable Mention Freshman All-America. It was after his freshman year Wells began to think seriously about his childhood dreams of playing professional sports and serving an LDS Church mission.

“I always knew I wanted to go on a mission, but I had a really good freshman year,” Wells said. “Because of that, people told me to stick around a bit longer to see how I would do. ‘If you keep it up you’ll have a great chance of being drafted,’ they said."

Serving a mission is a difficult decision to make for many LDS college athletes. It becomes an even more difficult decision for collegiate baseball players who have aspirations of playing Major League Baseball. The makeup of professional baseball is different than any other sport. While players are drafted into the NFL and NBA when they reach the ages of 22 or 23, baseball players are often drafted much younger.

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