OMAHA, Neb. — A year of stardom at Louisiana State University hasn't taken the New Mexico out of Alex Bregman.
Bregman, an Albuquerque Academy graduate who was a standout high school baseball player, took NCAA baseball by storm in 2013, being named by Collegiate Baseball as the Louisville Slugger National Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association. He made the shortlist for the Brooks Wallace Award, which is given to the nation's top shortstop and will be announced June 29.
Through the process, Bregman hasn't lost sight of the kid he was when he was just a bat boy for the University of New Mexico.
"I am New Mexico until I die. I love that place, and it is home," Bregman said during an interview before an LSU practice on June 15 at Bellvue High School before the team played its first game in the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb. "To be the guy from New Mexico, it is fun to say you are from there because not many baseball players at this level are."
Bregman gave New Mexico baseball a lot of publicity throughout the regional and super regional qualifiers for the CWS, with announcers singing his praises every at-bat.
He hopes that inspires youth players in the state he still calls home.
"I want all the young players in New Mexico to know they can make their dreams come true and they can play in the College World Series and in professional baseball, because there are great opportunities for them to do so. Anyone can reach their goals," he said.
Bregman, who battled yearly with Piedra Vista and Farmington High schools in state tournaments, credited his success to the Albuquerque Baseball Academy and instructors Ryan Brewer, Mike Foote, Ryan Kellner and Jason Columbus. He said it is important for young players to take advantage of facilities and coaching that the ABA and Strike Zone Baseball in Farmington can provide.
Out of high school, many coaches and scouts were unsure what position Bregman could play, especially since a broken finger his senior season kept him out of play until the state tournament. Catcher appeared to be an option, but Bregman always wanted to prove he could handle shortstop. He is now regarded as one of the best college shortstops in the nation.
"I always felt like I could play shortstop at the next level and (LSU head coach Paul) Mainieri gave me a chance to prove that here. I really like playing shortstop, and it is where I want to play the rest of my life. To start at shortstop as a freshman makes me happy. I put in all the hard work and it paid off."
LSU was eliminated after just two games in Omaha, and Bregman had a rough 0-for-8 showing at the plate in the two games against UCLA and North Carolina. It dropped his batting average to .369 after it was near .400 before the super regionals. But Bregman still led the team with 59 runs this season with 18 doubles, seven triples, six home runs and 52 RBIs. He set a single-season freshman record for LSU with 104 hits.
But it was a Bregman fielding error that spoiled his trip to Omaha. In the eighth inning against UCLA, a hard-hit groundball got past him and allowed the Bruins to take a 2-1 lead and eventual victory in the Tigers' first game of the series.
Though his inexperience in Omaha showed during the week, Mainieri knows it was a valuable trip for his young star.
"... He'll be better for this experience. I don't have any doubt about that. I love the kid. I think he's a great player and his best days are ahead of him," Mainieri said in a June 18 article in The Times Picayune.
Bregman said his experience playing in the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington in 2012 helped prepare him for the big crowds and intense atmosphere of Alex Box Stadium at LSU, and he hoped it would prepare him for TD Ameritrade Park and the 26,344 fans he played in front of against UCLA.
"The Connie Mack World Series was awesome and a great environment against great competition. That is what you do in college," Bregman said. "It really prepared me for the environment I played in front of in Baton Rouge and on a bigger scale here in Omaha. Those are the kind of tournaments and situations you have to put yourself in in order to be successful in these situations later in your life."
Though the week ended with two disappointing losses, Bregman looked at the positives and has quickly moved on to preparing for next year's CWS.
"The next goal of mine is to win a national championship," he said.John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.