Heading South

Christian Helsel wanted to play baseball in the south. Baseball, until the weather warms up, can be difficult to play in his homestate of Pennsylvania.

So the third baseman from Altoona committed to Texas Christian. But the Horned Frogs, in the College World Series in Omaha last June, bolted from the Mountain West Conference to the Big East.

Helsel, currently a junior in high school, knows something about the Big East. One thing is that most of its teams are northern. It was one of the reasons he began to look around at other schools.

It didn't take long. Once he visited Ole Miss, that's when the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder decided the University of Mississippi was the place for him.

"I always wanted to play in the south," Helsel said. "Obviously Oxford, Mississippi is in the south. And I knew about the atmosphere for baseball there. I visited, met the coaches, saw the facilities, and knew it was the place for me. My ultimate goal is to play professional baseball, and I know that by going there it will help me."

Helsel had offers from other southern schools, like Auburn and East Carolina. He also had conversations with Arkansas, North Carolina, and Coastal Carolina.

"I decommitted from TCU, and Ole Miss was the first school I talked to after that," he said. "My first year (at TCU) they would have made the switch to the Big East. Growing up in the north, I just wanted to get out of the cold and into the warm weather."

Helsel came down to Oxford for the winter camp in January and for a baseball series in March. It was winter here, but not like winter there.

"I was talking to Ole Miss before I committed to TCU but never got to visit," he said. "Once I decommitted, Ole Miss was the first school that I contacted. I was down for the pitcher/catcher winter camp, and for the Lipscomb series. It was cold when I first came down there, but to be honest with you, it felt a little warm to me."

Helsel is a versatile infielder but is mainly a third baseman and shortstop along with playing some outfield. He believes Ole Miss is looking at him as a third baseman. He says he considers himself an all-around player that wants to improve in every area.

"I feel I'm a pretty good player in all areas," Helsel said. "I feel like I'm pretty well-balanced. I definitely go all out and hustle every play. That's how I play."

Helsel's part of the world is known for its football. Western Pennsylvania and places like Altoona and Pittsburgh are heavily into the gridiron sport. Helsel played football but gave it up after his freshman year to focus on baseball.

The high school baseball season is only about midway through at this point in the state of Pennsylvania. With the cold weather, the start is later and the season is shorter.

"We're about halfway through the season. We play a 20-game regular season, and we're 10 games in, so far," Helsel said.

He feels good about where his own game is headed this season.

"I'm hitting the ball pretty well," said Helsel, batting .470 with one home run and four doubles through 10 games for Altoona Area High School. "I feel like things are getting better now for me and for the team."

Last year as a sophomore Helsel batted .390 for his high school team. Obviously postseason honors for his junior season have yet to be handed out. Following his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was named first-team in the area by the Altoona Mirror, the daily newspaper in his hometown.

This summer he will play with a team called the Mid-Atlantic Canes, traveling some to the south. He will also play in the East Coast Pro Showcase in Florida and the Area Code games in California.

"I'll be traveling a lot and won't be home much," he said. "But I'm alright with that. I'll be playing baseball."

He will sign in November with the Rebels, the month he turns 18, and will likely visit for a football weekend. His brother and father have been to Ole Miss with him. His mother and sister will also visit with them the next time.

Perfect Game assesses Helsel this way: "...a strong athletic build, good footwork in the infield, solid arm strength, good swing, strong hands, ball comes off bat well, slightly open stance, good approach in the game."

Helsel says with a year and a half remaining before he arrives at Ole Miss for college baseball, he wants to improve all areas, but especially his speed.

"I'd like to get a little quicker from home to first," he said. "I know that playing in the SEC you have to be quick. So that's an area I know I need to work on as much as anything."

Helsel joins other Rebel baseball commitments for 2011-12, including RHP Brady Bramlett, SS Gavin Cecchini, OF Cameron Dishon, LHP Zach Irwin, SS Chase Nyman, C Stryker Trahan, and RHP Taylor Wallace.

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