Havre Daily News Sports Editor
There's an old baseball adage: "Speed never slumps."
New Montana State University-Billings baseball coach Chris Brown not only subscribes to the theory, he embraces it.
It is precisely why he signed Havre's Patrick "Patch" Wirtzberger to an NCAA letter of intent to play baseball for his fledgling Jacket program in its first official college season in 2005-06.
Perhaps, Wirtzberger's best asset is his speed. Although he doesn't have an official time in the 60-yard dash - the measurement that baseball coaches and scouts use to chart speed - there is no doubting his ability to get around the bases faster than most players.
Brown saw it in person in a recent Northstar sweep of the Tri-County Cardinals. In the doubleheader, Wirtzberger had three infield hits and four stolen bases.
"He's a baseball player," Brown said. "He's got that long athletic frame and he really runs the bases well. He's aggressive and uses his speed.
"Speed never goes into a slump. He really uses it to put a lot of pressure on the defense and make things happen offensively."
For Wirtzberger, the lure of playing at Montana's only four-year baseball program was the deciding factor over traditional NAIA baseball powers Jamestown College, Dakota State University, Mayville State University and the University of Mary.
"It's closer to home than the other schools, which made a big difference," Wirtzberger said. "Coach Brown is a good guy and the school offers what I want academically, which is accounting."
While Wirtzberger's speed definitely makes him stand out, he brings other qualities to the field that helps his team win games.
Defensively, he has proven to be versatile, splitting time between catcher and center field for the entirety of his American Legion baseball career.
So far this season, he has seen the bulk of his time at catcher, where he has flourished
"Patch has really grown as a catcher," said Northstars head coach Mickey Williams. "In the past, he was more of an athlete trying to play the position. But he's really worked on becoming better defensively. He has been very solid all season in terms of receiving, blocking balls and throwing out runners."
Brown said he could also see Wirtzberger catching in college.
"I didn't get a chance to see him throw since they never really tried to run on him," Brown said. "But he has good receiving skills, he works from the outside in and he calls a pretty good game."
For Wirtzberger, it doesn't matter where he plays at as long as he gets the opportunity
"I really don't know where I'll play at," he said. "I feel like I'm a versatile player that can play more than one position and help the team wherever I play."
Wirtzberger has been helping the Northstars (25-13) plenty this season. He leads the team in hitting with a .470 batting average with a team-high 55 hits. He also leads the team in on-base percentage (.585), stolen bases (26), singles (45) and runs scored (44). He is second on the team in RBIs with 23 and doubles (10).
Last year, he hit .398, scored 82 runs and drove in 44 for a Northstar team that won the Northern District regular season and tournament title.
In 2003 as a member of the Havre Comets, he hit .449 and was named team MVP by head coach Bob Evans.
"Patch does a lot of different things for our team," Williams said. "He does a lot of the little things to help us win and he has become a leader on and off the field."
As for Wirtzberger's status in his first year in Billings, Brown was diplomatic.
"If a kid is good enough to play right away, he is going to play as a freshman," he said. "But we are also looking at building a foundation for the future."
Wirtzberger is open to whatever Brown feels is best for him.
"It really doesn't matter if I redshirt or not," he said. "If I do, it gives me a year to get used to college. Besides, it will take five years for me to finish the degree I want."
Wirtzberger's talents extend beyond the baseball field. He was a two-year letterman for the Havre High basketball and track teams. He earned three varsity football letters, but could not compete because of a neck injury he suffered as a youth.
He is also a solid student with a 3.4 grade point average while being active in student council, DECA and Blue Pony Mentors.
Still, his first love is baseball. It's something that Brown could see in just two games.
"He really plays with a passion for the game and to compete," Brown said. "That is something we are looking for in our players."
Said Wirtzberger: "Playing college baseball is something that I've wanted to do since I was playing in Babe Ruth and now into Legion."
Patch is the son of Cal and Kim Wirtzberger. His older brother, Dan, is a wide receiver/quarterback on the MSU-Northern football team.