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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Baseball

Creel handles double duty


In Little League baseball, the best players can hit and pitch like an ace.But as they grow into middle school and high school, the choice is made between being an offensive player out in the field, or as pitcher alone on the mound.

Junior Matt Creel, however, was just as versatile then as he is now for the Cougars.

Creel plays two roles, as a designated hitter and infielder that also brings heat from the bullpen as a right-handed reliever.

He is tied for second on the team in doubles with nine and has 26 strikeouts in 31 innings of work. Despite carrying a heavier load than his teammates, you would not see or hear Creel drawing attention to himself. He is known for being a team-oriented player that keeps his head down and does what is asked of him.

In his two seasons at UH, Creel has volunteered for a task that few players undertake.

“That’s how I was raised,” Creel said. “My parents always taught me just do the right things and take care of my business. Everybody will see that and follow.

“You don’t have to verbally push your ideas on other people because if I’m doing the right things, taking care of business and working hard and putting in extra time, the results will take care of themselves. When everyone sees the results, they’ll follow.”

The man who taught him how to lead is also the one who was working with him on his swing since he was a 3-year-old playing T-ball for the local church — his father.

He has grown so comfortable and trusting with his dad’s advice, they regularly talk about his swing — and sometimes it turns into more than just a phone call.

“He’s one of those guys who when I’m struggling, he’ll drive here — and it’s not a short drive — I’m from Baton Rouge,” Creel said.

“He’s the person I’m most comfortable with.”

Being within Houston Astros territory, it is only fitting that former great Jeff Bagwell is one of the players who Creel tried to emulate growing up as a fan.

However, the former first baseman’s signature batting stance didn’t stick very long. Instead, Creel has a more wide-open stance with his front leg on the chalk closest to the pitcher of the batter’s box. His hands start in closer to his right ear hole and move farther behind him as the pitcher delivers. It is reminiscent of another one of his favorite players — current St. Louis Cardinal first baseman Albert Pujols.

Finding a balance

Though he is a regular DH and pinch hitter, pitching has come to share equal time in his preparation. It was not always the case, but the strong right-hander with a 4-4 record and 6.10 ERA now has trouble choosing one over the other.

“Relief pitching is really different,” he said. “It’s basically trying to get as much adrenaline going as you can, get amped up as much as you can and give everything you have for one or two innings. That’s it. There’s no pacing yourself or anything. You don’t have time to settle in because a lot of times you come in with pressure on.”

The weight room isn’t the only place Creel, who enjoys fishing and golfing in his down time, prepares for the game. He likes to prepare his mind before the game.

“We have a sports psychologist, Bryan Cane, we work with now,” he says. “I like to do what we call ‘concentration grids.’ I do one or two of those before every game.”

The grid is a collection of numbers that range from 0-99 in random order on a grid of ten columns and ten rows. The objective is to count the numbers in ascending or descending order as fast as you can in a minute. Creel uses it to sharpen his mind that may one day lead to another profession if playing the game is something he no longer can do.

Creel is accustomed to playing significant roles for whatever team he plays for. He was a varsity player in his four years at Central Private High School in Baton Rouge, La. He was a three-time state champion, all-district selection and was named as a Louisville Slugger All-American three times.

Before transferring to UH, he played at LSU Eunice and won the Junior College Division II National Championship.

Though Creel is a psychology major, he begrudingly sees himself forever involved with the sport.

“As much as I’ve said I wouldn’t be a coach,” Creel said. “I’d probably end up trying to be one. That’s just one of the things where you like the game so much you don’t want to get away from it.”


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