Belmont's Woods gets opportunity to pursue professional baseball career after all

Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 6:26pm

Nate Woods felt slighted, not to mention disappointed.

Now he’ll have to channel those feelings in a positive manner as he embarks on a professional baseball career.

Late Wednesday night, Woods agreed to a free-agent deal to play in the Florida Marlins organization. The recent Belmont graduate flew to Jupiter, Fla., on Thursday for Rookie League ball.

He will play in the 60-game Gulf Coast League for the GCL Marlins. He’ll partake in a mini-camp this weekend and sign his free-agent contract before hitting the field on Monday for the season opener.

All of that happened fewer than two weeks after Woods went unpicked in the Major League Baseball Draft.

“I was not expecting [to be drafted] but I was crossing my fingers for it,” Woods said. “I thought I had done reasonable in the last couple years and had good years at Belmont. I can’t tell you why I didn’t get drafted. I’m just glad I get the opportunity to go play. ... But there is definitely a chip on my shoulder. I want to go prove myself. I want to go play hard, enjoy the game and just have fun with it.”

Woods was drafted four years ago in the 28th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers following his senior year at Cedar Rapids High School in Iowa. He passed on the contract and went to Belmont — a decision he doesn’t regret.

Woods ended his collegiate career earlier this month when the Bruins lost to Vanderbilt in a NCAA regional championship game. It was the their first trip to the NCAA Tournament and Woods had a lot to do with it.

The senior captain had a team-high .338 batting average, 13 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .592 slugging percentage. He held down first base or was the designated hitter when he wasn’t pitching. The right-hander was 7-5 with a 6.06 ERA in 14 starts. In his four-year career, he made 44 starts and picked up 20 wins on the mound, ranking third and fifth, respectively, in school history.

Throughout his career, though, he carried the Bruins with his bat. He left with two single-season records – home runs (20) and RBIs (78), both of which he set in 2010. He had a .317 career batting average and was second all-time at Belmont with 40 career home runs and third with 172 RBIs.

“He is an amazing athlete, in my opinion,” Belmont coach Dave Jarvis said. “At 6-foot-7 and about 230 pounds, he is an elegant runner with great finesse and skills. I am proud to have coached an athlete like him.”

Woods expects to play at first base but said the Marlins also talked to him about playing a corner outfield position. It wouldn’t be unfamiliar territory as early in his career at Belmont he played in right field.

Woods has shown he can be versatile — he played third base back in high school and even squatted at catcher last summer in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in Baltimore.

“I’d be willing to play anywhere, learn wherever,” Woods said.

His college coach believes he can, too.

Jarvis said the Bruins put him primarily at first base to prevent the chance of injury in order to protect his pitching arm. But the veteran coach believes Woods is filled with athletic talent. So much so that he compared him to a Milwaukee Brewers outfielder.

“I think he is Corey Hart to be quite honest,” Jarvis said. “I think he can run like that. I think he can cover ground like that in the outfield.”

Woods won’t be the first in his family to play professional baseball. His grandfather, Ken Charipar, signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs in 1948 and played two years in their minor league system.

Charipar, however, never got a chance to see his grandson play professionally. He died in March at the age of 80.

Rest assured when Woods goes to work on Monday, he’ll be thinking of his grandfather. He’ll also be trying hard to make a living playing baseball — regardless of the way he ended up there.

“It is kind of special,” he said. “I definitely wish he was here to see it. He was one of my best friends and he taught me a lot of the game. To share this moment with him would have been very special.”

Briefly

More than three-quarters of its student-athletes earned Atlantic Sun Conference academic honors (3.0 GPA or better during season of competition) as Belmont won the A-Sun All-Academic Trophy, the conference announced.

The university's spring sports teams combined for a 3.32 GPA in 2011 and 76.3 percent (174 of 228) of all athletes during 2010-11 met the award standard, the highest rate ever during the university's NCAA era. The spring sports GPA also was the highest since the move to NCAA.

Women's cross country had the highest team GPA (3.622) among all the programs.