On a junior college campus in rural central Florida, hours from the nearest coastline or metropolitan skyline, hitting and hygiene converged this spring to transform Brandon Decker's baseball career.
"I told my teammates I won't cut my hair the whole season," said Decker, a sophomore leftfielder at South Florida Community College in Avon Park. "I guess it worked. I cut it as soon as the season ended because it was getting pretty crazy."
By the time shears met shaggy, Decker had posted monstrous numbers. In 52 games, the 2006 Gulf graduate hit .404 with a school-record 20 home runs and collected 67 RBIs. The homer total, according to National Junior College Athletic Association stats, ranked seventh nationally. The RBI total ranked 24th.
"Honestly, I think it was just (SFCC) coach (Rick) Hitt," said Decker, a first-year transfer who hit only four homers as a freshman at Embry-Riddle. "He let me do my thing and I felt a lot more comfortable."
Today, he may feel euphoric.
Decker, who has worked out for three big-league clubs (Cardinals, Tigers, Blue Jays), will be at his Holiday home tracking Major League Baseball's first-year player draft.
"I think his chances are very good of getting selected," said Hitt, who has watched 24 of his players sign pro contracts the past eight years. "Whether or not he gets selected in the slot he and his family want to see him get selected obviously is the question."
Baseball America lists Decker as the state's 85th-best prospect. If he's selected high enough, and offered an acceptable amount to sign, the Florida Gulf Coast signee will forgo his final two years of college ball.
"I'm pretty excited," said Decker, who hit a school-record 10 homers as a Gulf senior. "I think I'll go in, like, the top 10 rounds hopefully."
Buoying his aspirations are what he described as encouraging workouts with the three pro clubs, in three cities. The highlight: a homer in a 12-inning game against a Cardinals extended spring-training club in Jupiter. But the last several months in Avon Park represent the glaring jewel of his resume.
Though SFCC's field is a hitter's park stretching only 320 feet down the lines, Hitt notes 11 of Decker's homers were hit on the road. Additionally, Hitt says, Decker drew 22 walks and was hit by an SFCC-record 27 pitches.
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Decker is 30 pounds heavier than when he graduated high school, a byproduct of SFCC's intense fall weight-training program. Hitt said he believes Decker ultimately could put on 20 or so more.
That number could fluctuate depending on how much hair Decker's carrying.
"It never really grew to the point where he needed to cut it," Hitt said. "I think he really buzzed it up really good at the beginning of the year."
Turns out, Decker may have just been grooming himself for the next level.
"It's one of those years players would live to have," Hitt said. "And he had it."
Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or [email protected]