(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- Another homegrown Utah product with the same initials AW, hoping to gain more acclaim is BYU baseball sophomore Alex Wolfe.
Playing in the shadows of the Marriott Center, named after the early pioneers of an A & W fast food and root beer franchise, Wolfe is hoping for some of the national spotlight, too.
Four items stand out about the 6-foot, 200-pound infielder/catcher from Orem.
First, he chose the junior college route over a four-year program out of high school because he wanted a quick route to the pro level. Next, he turned down $350,000 as the 47th-round draftee from 2005 by the Boston Red Sox. Third, he committed to Oregon State, then changed his mind to come to BYU. Lastly, injuries have forced changes to Wolfe’s game and lifestyle.
“Alex is a talented player who had an unfortunate injury last year,” said BYU coach Vance Law. “He will anchor our middle lineup. He can hit the ball to all fields with power and play either corner or catch. We want his bat on a daily basis.”
Wolfe was a draft-and-follow prospect by the BoSox after his senior year at Orem’s Timpanogos High School where he was 7-0 as a pitcher. He had transferred from nearby Payson, helping the Timberwolves to a pair of state titles, and winning three games in one of those tournaments. He also caught and played third early in his T-Wolf career.
The Sox contacted Wolfe after his freshman season at Dixie State just before they lost their rights to him.
At Dixie, Wolfe batted .361, was First-team All-Region for the Scenic West Athletic Conference and led the SWAC in on-base percentage at .513.
Wolfe turned down the Red Sox because he had accepted his mission call to Puerto Rico.
“My favorite team is the Red Sox. I’ve been a fan for a long time, but it solidified when they drafted me.”
He also turned down a chance to remain at Dixie after his mission when Oregon State came calling.
“I told Coach (Mike) Littlewood if Dixie would have remained a JC I would have come back.,” said Wolfe. Dixie completed its move from a junior college to a four-year program in 2007.
“I committed to Oregon State after my year at junior college. Pat Casey (OSU Coach) called a week before my mission. But I changed my mind during my mission to come to BYU so I could help my younger brother and my family.”
Alex had a setback at Dixie when he broke his hand while swinging at a pitch. That broken hand also caused him to move from catcher to first base.
“I broke my right hand, but I played the whole year. I was going to pitch in an upcoming game and was throwing in the bull pen until I broke my hand. I could throw 90-91 mph and threw a split-finger fastball.”
While at Dixie, his teammate Kyle Huntsman influenced Wolfe to go on a mission.
“I wasn’t a nice person before my mission and didn’t treat people very well. I still talk to batters when I catch, but I don’t use swear words now.”
Since returning home from his mission, Alex has helped influence his younger brother, Tanner, to go on a mission last month to South Dakota.
“My knee injury gave me a chance to watch my brother play baseball every single game. He (Tanner) hopes to play for BYU when he returns from his mission. “
While on Alex’s mission in Puerto Rico, Church members and contacts learned to call him Elder Lobo or lobito (little wolf in Spanish).
“On my mission they couldn’t pronounce the “L” in my last name,” said Wolfe. “People leave out the “L” and sometimes the “E” which is silent.”
Wolfe has used his Spanish to his advantage since he returned from his mission.
“I worked for my sister at Red Robbin restaurant in Salt Lake last summer. I heard Latino workers talking in Spanish saying, ‘I can see why he got the job because of his sister.’ They would say things about my sister and then I answered them in Spanish telling them I understood everything they had said in the past days.”
Wolfe silenced opponents at least once last season when he landed his only home run in the batter’s eye in the stand of evergreens beyond the centerfield fence. That two-run shot against the University of Portland in Provo was just short of a week before Wolfe was injured in his 11th game as a Cougar.
He batted .310 and started 11 games before being injured.
That injury forced him out of the lineup for Cougar games he was looking forward to playing last season against Oregon State. The Beavers finished with a 36-18 record after they were eliminated by TCU in the NCAA Tournament.
With Wolfe in BYU’s lineup, the Cougars likely would have won a couple more games and could have also played in the NCAA Tourney.
In the batter’s box against St. John’s, the left-handed batting Wolfe dislocated his left knee with a slightly-torn patellar tendon. He became eligible for a medical redshirt and remains a sophomore.
“The doctors told me it was a freak accident and the odds of it happening again are another 21 years,” said Wolfe, who has watched video of the at bat over and over again.
One Cougar fan who is looking forward to seeing what Wolfe can do on the baseball field is his fiance, Hailey Larson from Parker, Colo. (Wolfe also has a sister named Haley). Larson was the prime beneficiary of Wolfe’s injury last season.
“I had a date with Hailey a couple days before I hurt my knee,” Wolfe explained. “We got engaged last month and will get married on Jan. 15.
“It was hard to watch games last year,” said Wolfe. “My injury allowed me to lift and regain my upper body strength.
“Originally the goal was to play by the Mountain West Tournament (last May), but my knee wasn’t getting any better and rehab wasn’t working. In July I had surgery and they took out a bunch of cartilage floating around. My legs are now two different sizes.”
That knee surgery has slowed his progress as a catcher because he isn’t strong enough to stay in the squatting stance, so he has moved to third base.
When his baseball opportunities are done, Alex may move on to law school, a different version than the “Law School” administered by Coach Law.
“My mom (Elaine), who is my biggest game critic, told me she would pay for my school if I became a doctor or a lawyer. I’m a communications major and want to go to BYU Law School. I’ve got family and a mission president (President Dewsnup of Dewsnup, King & Olsen) who are lawyers.”
In the meantime, watch for number 18 now playing third base for the Cougars.
“I thought I wore 18 at Dixie, but it turned out I wore 19 there. Three is my favorite number (high school jersey).”
They say third time is charm, so Wolfe is hoping his third college baseball school (Dixie, Oregon State, and now BYU) may bring a second pro draft.
That hopeful draft may not bring the figures like his first draft or the astronomical $1.75 million signing bonus his Springville High School friend Mark Pawelek got as the 20th pick in the first round of the 2005 Major League draft.
All Wolfe wants is another chance to play on the pro level and follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. His father, Jeff, played in the California Angels system and grandfather, Larry, played in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.