Feb. 1, 2010

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Pirates' Booty: Roller rolls for ECU

By Michael Perry



East Carolina University’s Kyle Roller could easily be mistaken for a fullback or a linebacker with his 6- 1, 250-pound frame and his surprising speed. He even comes from a football town and lettered in football at Richmond Senior High in Rockingham, N.C. The only thing is…he’s a baseball player.


Roller, a senior designated hitter and first baseman for the No. 18 Pirates (Baseball America) possesses unique duel-threat ability as a contact hitter in a power hitter’s body.


By appearance he’s a stocky, barrel-chested southpaw slugger, the type that every pitcher who values his ERA worries about. But the nimble big man is one of college baseball’s most talented offensive athletes.


“We knew he had power,” ECU skipper Billy Godwin said. “His maturity as a hitter over the last three years has been phenomenal; he’s been as good if not better than I ever thought he would be.”


In his past three seasons, Roller has accrued 39 home runs and 155 RBI in his 571 collegiate plate appearances with a college career batting average of .316.


In his junior year at ECU Roller aided his team in securing a Regional Championship at home and expanding the program’s Super Regional appearance mark to three.


Roller reminisced on the 2009 Greenville Regional, describing it as his best baseball memory.


“That’s something that will stick with me the rest of my life,” Roller said. “To be down three runs in the bottom of the ninth, and Devin [Harris] hits that big home run, it gives me goose bumps thinking about it now.”


The Rockingham, N.C., native has tallied a number of preseason accolades including preseason first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball, second-team preseason All-America by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and Ping! Baseball, preseason first-team All-Conference USA and was named the sixth best college baseball player by The College Baseball Blog.


Despite these and numerous other awards throughout his career, Roller remains focused, humble and straightforward.


“They’re great awards, but I really care about what we do as a team,” Roller said. “It’s a great honor, but I don’t pay much attention to it.”


Roller is more than an above college baseball player; he’s a through-and-through hitting purist. Some may challenge this fact with the aluminum bat argument, but a simple look at his summer league accomplishments would end all discussion.


During the past two summers Roller played in the Cape. In his last season, Roller was a not just a member of the CCBL Champion Bourne Braves, he also was the postseason and league MVP and an All-Star selection. Roller excelled in the lumber-only-league, hitting 10 homers, plating 33 runs (both league-leading statistics) and was batting .600 as his team was headed into the final game of the season.


“Cape Cod is an awesome league, the best players in the country come,” Roller said. “It kind of lets you know where you’re at as far as the best talent in the league.”


Roller was selected in the 47th round of the Major League Draft after his junior year, but decided to return to ECU.


“My mama always told me ‘If you start something finish it’,” Roller said. “I was leaning towards coming back to school, finish that out and getting a chance to go to Omaha.”


Roller, known for his plate presence, said he intends on working heavily on his defensive skills this season.


Ironically, Roller says he was dumped into the designated hitter slot for his lack of defensive ability, but he works extensively on his ability to field the ball to establish himself as a complete athlete.


“We have emphasized more playing defense with him, we’ve toyed with left field,” Godwin said of the possibility of seeing Roller on defense. “Kyle for a big guy runs very well, he’s a lot better athlete than you’d think, but we’ve also emphasized him at first.”


Recently chosen as one of ECU’s 2010 team captains, Roller has embraced the role whole heartedly as he helps his teammates make adjustments in batting practice while also leading by example with his work ethic.


With or without the “C,” Roller would practice just as hard.


Fellow senior Devin Harris spoke of Roller’s ability as a player, teammate and friend.


“Kyle’s been one of my best friends here, he goes out and works hard, we spend all kinds of hours in the cage working on our swing,” Harris said of his three-year roommate. “He’s had a lot of success, and I think he’s going to do well here and at the next level.”


Roller attributes much of his offensive maturity to Godwin, but first and foremost to his father.


“My dad, he’s the reason that got me going with baseball, everyday we’d work, he would take me to the cage even if I didn’t want to,” Roller said. “He drove me to do the best I can.”


(photos courtesy of ECU Media Relations Office)