BRYAN FOGLE CAN'T help it. He has to be backed into a corner before he comes out fighting.
He found a corner when he almost quit baseball at Lexington High School. He found another when few college scouts paid him any attention. Nine games into his Erskine College career, Fogle wondered if he ever would blossom on the baseball field. Then he found himself a corner.
He fought his way out. Now, as his college career spins to a close with the upcoming postseason, Fogle stands as the all-time home run and RBI king for NCAA Division II baseball. His 72 home runs and 307 RBIs include an astonishing senior season of 27 long balls and 100 RBIs to go with a .446 batting average.
Fogle is the likely national player of the year, and with any kind of run by Erskine in the playoffs, he should collect five RBIs to become the Division II single-season record-holder as well.
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"He's, without question, the best hitter that's ever come through our program, and that's saying a lot," says Kevin Nichols, who has sent 20 players on to professional baseball during his 11-year run as Erskine's coach. "He can do a little more on the baseball field than some of the other guys I've had."
Fogle hardly looks the part. He stands 6-foot-1 and weighs what he and Nichols would call a svelte 220 pounds - a far cry from the days when Nichols referred to his 240-pound power hitter as his "middle linebacker."
Recognizing that his draft status in June hinged on weight loss, improved agility and his play in the field, Fogle did what he always has done: He went to work. He dropped the weight, polished his skills in right field and now has what Nichols grades as a "plus arm."
No one who knows Fogle was surprised, least of all his father, Lee.
Midway through his sophomore season at Lexington, Fogle left practice one day with every intention of never playing again, discouraged by his performance and disheartened by a lack of playing time.
"It seems like everywhere I've ever been, I started off at the bottom and kind of been shuffled to the bottom of the deck and overlooked," says Fogle, who on the ride home with his father heard only a few words of advice: "Do not quit" and "Cream rises to the top."
Fogle did not quit, but the cream merely settled at Lexington High. He hit eight home runs as a junior and two as a senior. Fogle played within in a system - much like at most high schools - under coach Tommy Mishoe that emphasized hitting to advance runners rather than swinging for the fences.
"The philosophies were a little bit different," Mishoe says. "We move runners along. We don't have eight or nine guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark, so we have to kind of manufacture runs."
Luckily for Fogle, he caught the eye of Nichols, both times at USC. The first occasion was a USC camp and the second was a Showcase event. Nichols works many of Ray Tanner's USC camps, and Tanner says the Erskine coach always is on the lookout for big, strong kids who show home run potential.
Nichols craves home run hitters, and in Fogle he saw the potential to teach his "weight transformation" technique that calls for hitters to put greater lift on the ball.
Following the USC Showcase event, Nichols returned home to a voicemail from Erskine assistant coach Chad Amidon. Erskine not only liked Fogle, the program wanted him. Nichols and Amidon offered Fogle virtually a full ride.
Fogle did not disappoint in his first fall practice, winning the starting right-field job. But nine games into the regular season, he was batting .222 with one home run. He feared for his job, until Nichols called him in for a one-on-one conference.
"I don't care if you strike out every at-bat for the next 10 games, I'm not taking you out of the lineup," Fogle recalls Nichols saying. "This is baseball. You're in a slump. You're going to come out of it. I'm not worried about it."
Fogle batted .386 with 13 home runs over the season's final 48 games. He followed that with 11 home runs and a .376 average as a sophomore and 20 home runs and a .410 average as a junior.
Last June, the Kansas City Royals called Fogle in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball draft and offered a $50,000 signing bonus. Fogle wanted $80,000 but would have settled for $60,000. The Texas Rangers then selected Fogle in the 30th round and offered a $60,000 bonus.
It was enough to put Fogle in a corner.