The last time Garrett Wittels swung his bat in an NCAA game, he went 3 for 5 with two RBI. It was his 56th straight game with at least one hit, two shy of Robin Ventura's all-time college record.
Wittels will be back on the diamond tonight seeking to extend his streak after an 8-month layoff, as his FIU Golden Panthers play Southeastern Louisiana.
This time, however, Wittels will dig into the box with another, much heavier burden on his 6'2" frame: ongoing rape charges stemming from a Dec. 20 incident in the Bahamas.
Wittels and four friends were arrested on December 20 at the Atlantis
Resort and Casino on Paradise Island. They have been charged with raping
two 17-year-old girls.
Wittels, a junior shortstop, has largely remained silent about the case, thanks in part to an FIU-imposed rule forbidding journalists from asking him about it. His father, however, has vigorously defended him in the press.
"Anyone can accuse anyone of anything at any time,'' Michael Wittels told the Miami Herald in late December. "He's not doing well, obviously. He's blown away. He's devastated that someone would accuse him of this.''
FIU announced on Wednesday that it would not suspend Wittels over the incident, clearing the way for him to play tonight.
If Wittels extends his streak until Sunday (tying the record), Ventura himself will call the game on ESPN. The two spoke about handling the pressure last month.
Wittels gained national recognition last season as he stretched his hitting streak into the postseason. He was nominated for an ESPY award for best male college athlete. Last year, the Jerusalem Post wrote at length about Wittels, who is Jewish, comparing him to Joe DiMaggio and Sandy Koufax.
The Golden Panthers host Southeastern Louisiana tonight at 7 p.m.
Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.