Destination: South

Christian Helsel kept up with interest when Ole Miss played TCU in College Station, Texas, earlier this month. His has been a most interesting journey to become a Rebel.

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The third baseman from Altoona, Pennsylvania, committed to TCU a couple of years ago because he wanted to play baseball where the seasons are longer and the winters shorter. Then the Horned Frogs from Texas decided they'd join a conference that was mainly half a country away – in the northeast. When the Big East came calling, TCU answered.

And Helsel bolted. He changed his commitment to Ole Miss.

"A couple of weeks after I committed (to TCU), they switched to the Big East," said Helsel, who has arrived in Oxford for second semester of summer school along with several of his incoming Rebel baseball teammates. "That's mostly in the northeast, and I wanted to play down south."

Helsel eventually signed with Ole Miss last November. Then another interesting twist: TCU changed conferences again. This time remaining in the south. This time right at home – in the Big XII.

But Helsel stuck with the Rebels.

"I'm happy with Ole Miss and the SEC now," said the 6-foot, 188-pounder who had other southern options. There was Auburn and there was Vanderbilt. And East Carolina, too.

But he's been a Rebel for several months now. And he's pleased to finally be here.

"Coming down here I was real excited, and now I'm even more excited with everybody welcoming me to Oxford and to Ole Miss," said Helsel. "Everybody's so friendly. I just feel right at home here."

He expanded that point as he continues to become accustomed to his new environs, having just arrived last weekend.

"The family atmosphere here, for sure," Helsel said of one significant aspect he's noticed already. "It seems like Ole Miss is a family tradition. I see families walking around with their little kids through the campus or through the Grove. That's just awesome that people love it here so much. It's an awesome place to be."

Helsel considers himself mainly a third baseman, but he said he can play a variety of positions. We see that with several players each season.

"I'm a third baseman," he said, "but really I can move around. I'm pretty versatile. Wherever they need me, I'll play there. I just want to be in the lineup."

Helsel knows what he wants to do as he prepares for his first school year as an Ole Miss Rebel. That's basically get better in all aspects of the game.

Christian Helsel
File Photo

"I need to work on everything and improve to be able to play well at the SEC level," he said. "I just need to get better by making my swing more consistent and being more solid in the infield."

Playing in the south was attractive to Helsel for one obvious reason.

"I only had 70 at-bats this season," said Helsel, who batted .415. "We didn't have that many games. We only play about 20 games."

But Altoona, in Pennsylvania's largest classification - 4A - took advantage of those few contests and was a record-setter for the school's baseball program.

"As a team we had a great year," Helsel said. "We made it to the state semis, which is the farthest any Altoona High team has ever made it in the playoffs. So we were extremely happy with that."

The list of Rebel newcomers already in Oxford is lengthy as second semester summer school begins. Three junior college transfers are here – Austin Blunt, Stuart Turner, and Lance Wilson.

Among the freshmen, Jacob Waguespack is here, as is Chase Nyman. Brady Bramlett has made it, and so have Matt Denny and Holt Perdzock.

And Helsel, who knew some of his new teammates already. He met some on recruiting visits, and he got to hang out with them at places like the East Coast Showcase. Baseball is a rather small fraternity like that. Many of the most highly recruited cross paths throughout high school, summer baseball, and on visits to colleges.

It's all something Helsel is familiar with. He said he even knows "a couple of kids going to Auburn, a couple going to Alabama, and Florida."

Helsel said Ole Miss handling TCU in game one of the NCAA Regional at Texas A&M gave him a lift.

"I was really excited when we beat ‘em that first game," he said of the Horned Frogs. "And then they came back and beat us twice."

TCU comes to Oxford to open next season for three games. Helsel was already aware of that and mentioned it.

"We get revenge the first series this year," he said.

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