Chris Carlson a major force for OCC baseball team

His academic advisor may not approve, but Orange Coast College sophomore Chris Carlson makes no secret of his primary field of study as a Pirate.

"Baseball is my major," Carlson said with a laugh. "That's my No. 1. Everything else is my minor."

So it is that the Orange Empire Conference Player of the Year sometimes fidgets in his classroom chair, counting down the moments until he can trade his pen for the aluminum bat that has always been his mightiest sword.

"Ever since I can remember, I've always just put the bat on the ball," said Carlson, whose hitting prowess has helped OCC (36-5-1) earn the school's first outright OEC crown since 1987, a No. 1 national ranking and the No. 1 seed in the four-team, double-elimination California Community College Athletic Assn. Baseball Championship, Friday through Sunday at Bakersfield College. "That's just always what I've loved to do."

According to OCC Coach John Altobelli, the romance goes two ways.

"There are some guys who are just born to hit and he's a guy who, his whole life, has been a hitter," Altobelli said. "He has eye-hand coordination and a short stroke. He has simple mechanics and he doesn't try to do too much. He just keeps it simple. He's just a pure, pure hitter."

Carlson, a former Sierra League Athlete of the Year at Chino Hills High who began his collegiate career at UC Irvine, has been a force in the middle of the OCC lineup for two seasons. This year, despite missing five games after fouling a ball off his right instep (the injury is still healing, which relegated the usual left fielder to designated hitter during the Super Regional completed Sunday), he is hitting .438 with seven home runs and 43 runs batted in. His average ranks No. 2 in the state and leads the team. His seven homers are tied for the team lead, and his 11 stolen bases top the squad. His 43 RBIs rank No. 2 among Pirates.

"He is a specimen," OCC pitcher Keegan Yuhl says of his 5-foot-9, 175-pound teammate. "I've been around a lot of very, very good hitters, but I've never seen anyone as clutch as Chris Carlson. He is an absolutely amazing hitter with great plate presence. He goes up there with an approach, which a lot of these hitters still don't do. If you get Chris out, you know you made a good pitch."

Getting Carlson out has been no easier since his return from the injury. In four Super Regional contests, he was seven for 15, including a pair of doubles, despite a noticeable limp.

"Getting back in the lineup was a big boost for my mentality," said Carlson, who has committed to play next season at New Mexico State. "That's what I like to do. I like to hit. And, it was nice being able to contribute to my team."

In two seasons, Carlson, twice a first-team all-conference honoree, has hit a combined .386 with 119 hits, 24 doubles, 10 homers, five triples, 83 RBIs, 87 runs and 15 stolen bases. He has helped the Pirates amass 68 wins during his tenure, which he hopes will end with the program's third state title, its second in four years.

OCC begins its quest for the crown Friday at noon against Sierra (25-15-1), the No. 11 seed in the Northern California playoffs.

Carlson said he is completely infatuated with hitting and he often finds himself picturing his duels with pitchers.

"I visualize as much as I can," Carlson said. "I just think about hitting. I think about seeing [the ball] out of the pitcher's hand, then putting a good swing on it. I try to visualize hitting the ball as hard as I can. Good things happen when you hit it hard."

Carlson said he often finds his attention in class drifting toward the diamond, particularly on game days.

"I zone out in class, sometimes," he said. "I count the minutes until class gets out. We're leaving Thursday for Bakersfield and I'm like, 'See you teacher, sorry.'"

When he gets to the ballpark, Carlson approaches hitting as if it were a science.

"I break it down," he said. "At UC Irvine, we all kept a little book on pitchers and that kind of caught on with me. I keep in mind what pitchers do against me. I look at first-pitch strikes and I look at what they like to throw me with two strikes."

But Carlson said he tries not to let even the most thorough analysis get in the way of his instincts.

"Thinking is for practice," he said. "When you're playing in a game, you just try to hit the ball."

Carlson said only an A-plus in Bakersfield, meaning the state championship, will be acceptable.

"We've worked hard to get where we are," Carlson said. "If we just keep playing like OCC, there's no one who is going to beat us."

barry.faulkner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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STATE FINAL FOUR

Teams: Orange Coast (36-5-1); Consumnes River (25-16); Rio Hondo (38-3), Sierra (25-15-1).

Where: Bakersfield College

Info: OCC takes on Sierra Friday at noon. Webcast viewing information can be found at www.cccaasports.org.

 

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