Trea Turner's path to Phillies' $300 million man began as a baby-faced freshman at N.C. State

Mike Sielski, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Baseball

RALEIGH, N.C. — During Trea Turner’s three years at North Carolina State, the only opponents who could stop him were the ones manning the entrances to the local taprooms. When Turner was a freshman, his buddies on the baseball team would bar-hop on Friday and Saturday nights, many of them bearing driver’s licenses that indicated they were eligible to consume alcohol legally when, in fact, they were not. Turner wanted to go with them. Turner, at first, tried to go with them. He wasn’t going anywhere.

He was skinny as a strip of yarn, listed on the Wolfpack’s official roster as 6-foot-1 and 171 pounds — measurements that had to have been taken while he had lifts in his shoes and paperweights in his pockets — and he had a face that made anyone who saw him question whether he was old enough to drive, let alone drink. It was rare that he could get his hands on a decent fake ID, and even when he did, he still failed to fool the bouncers around town.

“They’d be like, ‘Dude, you look like you’re 12. This is not you. You’ve got to go home,’ ” Brett Austin said. “He could not get into a bar with me.”

Austin is an assistant coach at N.C. State and Turner’s best friend. They were classmates, teammates, and roommates. He, head coach Elliott Avent, and associate head coach Chris Hart crammed themselves into a small office earlier this month to tell stories about Turner, to describe how a Palm Beach County kid so scrawny that he was cut twice from his travel team developed into the premier shortstop in Major League Baseball, into a touchstone so precious here that a giant photograph of him, crouched and poised in a fielding position, has been splashed on a wall inside the baseball program’s headquarters.

Now, Turner is 29, the free agent the Phillies had to have this offseason, the gift managing partner John Middleton purchased for his franchise and its fans for $300 million over the next 11 years. Here, he arrived at 18 with enough self-assurance, enough belief that he was bound for greatness in the big leagues, to jab back at his friends as they plopped down on their barstools and he slinked back to his dorm room.

“Trea didn’t really give a crap,” Austin said. “Like the fear of missing out, the FOMO, he didn’t have that. We’d give him crap about going out. He was like, ‘You guys enjoy the party now. I’ll enjoy the better ones down the road.’ ”


‘This kid’s a genius’

Avent has been the Wolfpack’s head coach since 1996, but he turned over most of his recruiting responsibilities to Hart in 2009, just as Turner was making his rise at Park Vista Community High School in Lake Worth, Fla. Turner wanted to play Division I baseball, and he wanted to study engineering; N.C. State’s engineering program is regarded among the country’s best. So once Turner had actually made his travel team and established himself as one of its top players, his coach emailed a video of the player to several ACC and SEC coaches, asking them to take a look.

Hart did. After watching Turner at a July showcase in Atlanta, he called him on a Wednesday and offered him a scholarship for the minimum amount he was permitted: 25% of N.C. State’s annual tuition, which in full was close to $30,000 for an out-of-state student. The scholarship offer was just Turner’s second. The first had been from Florida International University, whose coaches were expecting an answer from him the following Monday.

Hart was concerned. There was no way he could arrange for Turner to travel to Raleigh and visit N.C. State before Turner had to give FIU his answer. “I was like, ‘Trea, how is this going to work?’” he said. “He was very calm about it. ‘Don’t worry about that. I’ll be fine. I’ll make the decision.’ ”


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