To Be The Best

Christian Helsel has a lofty goal he's working toward.

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"I want to be the best player in the country. That's always my goal," said the Ole Miss baseball commitment who will sign with the Rebels in November. "I don't like it when others are better than me."

And so he works to make sure they aren't. Helsel is a 6-foot-1, 205-pound third baseman. He actually plays middle infield at Altoona Area High School in Pennsylvania and also pitches. But he projects as a third baseman and even a first baseman at the next level.

He committed to Ole Miss earlier this year and went on to have a successful junior season and summer. He looks forward to making it official in two months.

"The summer went great," said Helsel, whose dad, Mark, played baseball at Mercer University in Georgia. "I was playing for the Mid-Atlantic Canes from Pennsylvania. I played against a lot of good kids. I played at the Perfect Game National Showcase. That was a great experience. I played at the East Coast Pro Showcase and the Area Code Games, which was all great.

"I learned a lot and have some stuff to work on. Seeing those kids down there was good experience for me, and I'm going to get a lot better from that. So my summer was great."

Helsel, who batted .430 as a junior last spring, said he came away from the summer with a more clear vision of what he wants to work on to improve. Some of it came in the form of being around other Ole Miss commitments.

"It would definitely have to be my fielding," Helsel said of his main focus to improve. "I watched (Ole Miss commit) Gavin Cecchini a lot. I got to know him pretty well. Just seeing him fielding, he looks like a professional baseball player. That's what I need to look like. That's what I want to look like. So definitely fielding. There were tons of great fielders there. That's something for me to work on, and hopefully someday I'll be as good as those guys are."

Because remember, Helsel's goal is to be the best. So there's more.

"My hitting was good," he said. "I tweaked some of my mechanics, and it's going to help me out a lot. I've watched video of me hitting and everything, and the whole summer I was real confident in my hitting. I was feeling good."

Helsel, who bats and throws right-handed, has a solid approach at the plate and knows what he wants to do when he has an at-bat.

"I like to go opposite field a ton, and if I get an inside pitch, I'm going to turn on it and drive it into left field, maybe deposit it over the fence. But the part of my hitting that stands out the most is definitely my ability to drive it into the right center gap and hit to the opposite field."

This summer, Helsel got to know other future Rebels at the tournaments he attended.

Christian Helsel
File Photo

"I played against them but never with them. In Florida we stayed in dorms, so I hung out those guys down there. It was pretty cool. I met most of them, Gavin (Cecchini), Stryker (Trahan), Chase Nyman," he said of the 2012 UM commits. "I met all those guys at East Coast Pro and developed a good relationship with them. It was fun. I met (2013 UM commit) Dalton Dulin at an East Coast Pro tryout. They're all great kids. I can't wait to play with those guys. We're going to have a heck of a team."

Helsel had previously committed to Texas Christian. But the Horned Frogs bolted from the Mountain West Conference to the Big East. He knows something about the Big East. One thing is that most of its teams are in the northern U.S. 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 he 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."

From his days as a non-committed recruit, Helsel had gotten to know new Ole Miss assistant coach Cliff Godwin.

"When he was at Central Florida, he recruited me. So we had developed a relationship even before he was at Ole Miss. I was pretty excited when he was hired. He's definitely a really friendly guy. The first time I ever talked to him, I felt comfortable talking to him. I think he's going to be a fun guy to play for. I don't know much about his background as a hitting coach. But from what I hear, he's a great hitting guy, too. So I'm really excited to be playing for him."

The summer allowed Helsel to be seen by many who are interested in his services at the pro level. That's a positive for his future in a lot of ways, but it makes college coaches sweat. It's a part of the landscape, and Helsel is taking it mostly in stride with next year's June draft nine months away.

"There are tons of pro scouts and cross-checkers there. There was some exposure for me," he said of the tournaments he participated in this summer. "But I'd say after it was all said and done, the more valuable thing for me was the things I learned from going to those events."

As for the draft, he knows he may have a decision to make – pro ball or college - within a year.

"I'm probably going to have to wait and see. This summer really got me exposed. But this spring is going to determine where or if I'm going to get drafted. So I'm going to have to wait until this spring and this June."

Last month at Yankee Stadium in New York, Helsel, Cecchini, and Trahan were among 40 players who worked out for the Yankees and the Red Sox. The ballclubs invited 20 players each to go through drills and play two games, and the three future Rebels were among them.

In all honesty, it's college baseball that's mostly on Helsel's mind as far as his future after high school. His dad, who started four years as a middle infielder at Mercer, has been an influence.

"I always hear stories of college from my dad," Helsel said. "I don't think you can beat the college experience. I definitely want to go to college. We'll see how everything pans out."

Helsel will take a look at Ole Miss again this fall during a football weekend.

"I think my whole family is coming for a game," he said. "My mom and sister haven't seen the campus, and they definitely want to come down and see it all."

In addition to Helsel, other Rebel baseball commitments for 2012 include RHP Brady Bramlett, SS Gavin Cecchini, OF Cameron Dishon, LHP Zach Irwin, SS Chase Nyman, C Stryker Trahan, RHP Ty Hensley, LHP Matt Denny, and RHP Jacob Waguespack. The class is currently ranked in the Top 10 nationally by Perfect Game USA.

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