After choosing a mission over an MLB career and signing bonus, BYU's Wolfe not ready to call it a career

2012-04-16T00:45:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:20Z After choosing a mission over an MLB career and signing bonus, BYU's Wolfe not ready to call it a careerNeil K. Warner - Daily Herald Daily Herald
April 16, 2012 12:45 am  • 

Alex Wolfe had it all planned out: Play a year at Dixie, get drafted, sign a professional contract and play pro baseball.

He made it a goal. He made it his focus, put in his time and envisioned it happening. And for 19 years it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen.

Wolfe dominated at every level. He started as a sophomore in high school and hit .483. He won state championships in both his junior and senior years at Timpanogos High School. He chose to go to Dixie College out of high school because he wanted to play in warm weather and because he liked coach Mike Littlewood.

Oh, and there was one other reason. He could be eligible sooner for the Major League Draft. If you sign with a Division I school, you cannot be drafted until after your junior year or until you are 21. By going to Dixie, Wolfe could be drafted after his freshman season.

Wolfe had such an impressive freshman year at Dixie using a wood bat (.361 batting average, .513 on-base percentage) that he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox.

Leery that Wolfe may not sign, it wasn't until the 47th round that the Red Sox drafted him. Boston proved how it felt about Wolfe as a prospect when it offered him a signing bonus that is typically offered those chosen in the fifth or sixth rounds -- about $350,000.

See, everything was working out how he planned. Set it goal, put you time in, envision it and it will happen.

Works every time.

But for Wolfe, something happened on the way to the bank.

A teammate at Dixie asked him to consider serving a church mission and shared some of his experiences. After waging an internal debate, Wolfe made the decision to pursue something he believed was eternal.

Few people could even imagine how it would feel to delay your dream and tear up a six-figure paycheck for two years of volunteer service.

It was a tough thing for a teenager. He was warned by the Red Sox, and when he went to get a second opinion from other baseball scouts, the consensus was this: This is your chance, don't blow it. If you go on a mission you will not get another chance.

They were right.

Wolfe turned 25 last week. He knows when the MLB draft is held in June, he won't be selected. There isn't a high demand for a 25-year-old designated hitter, no matter how many home runs and RBI he has for BYU this year.

Things may have been different had Wolfe not suffered a series of bad breaks. Following his mission, he committed to Oregon State, but then changed his mind and felt BYU was the best place for him.

At BYU a series of strange events began to occur. In his sophomore year he was off to a good start, hitting .310 when something happened that even BYU coach Vance Law had never seen.

Wolfe took a swing at a pitch and fouled it off. During the process of swinging he tore his patella tendon and damaged another tendon in his knee.

In other words, he knee was shot.

"We were a month into the season, it was our first home series and felt like I was starting to get my groove back and my hand speed coming back from my mission," Wolfe said. "I'll never forget that day. It was devastating. I swung at a 3-1 fastball that was right down middle, I tried to hit home run, but I fouled it off. I remember the catcher and umpire said they heard a pop. No one knew what happened. I fell down the ground in a lot of pain."

How could he suffer an injury so serious by simply swinging at a pitch?

"I think it was his trail knee. Normally you might see it if it was your lead knee, the one you plant and twist on," Law said. "But not a knee in the batter's box. That's really the only time I can ever remember seeing that. It was a fluke thing."

The rarity of how the injury happened only made it harder to take.

"It was tough. I honestly thought to myself, 'I went on a mission, why can't you (God) can't help me out?' But I know that was selfish of me and that is not how things work," Wolfe said. "I get asked why I turned down the money and chance to play professional baseball a lot and if I regret it and you have to look at it the other way around. Why turn down opportunity to go mission? I meet my wife during the time I was injured. More than likely I wouldn't have met her had I not gotten hurt because I would have been gone so much with baseball. Now I have a beautiful wife and a baby boy on the way (in July)."

Now that nearly three years have passed, when he reflects back on his career, it doesn't sting the way it did when it first happened. That knee injury cost him an entire season and began a nine-month rehab process. Since he played in so few games, he was able to use the season as a redshirt year.

He bounced back in 2010 to hit .355 with 11 home runs and 63 RBI. He was named "Comeback Player of the Year," in the Cougar Club Awards and he also took home the honor of Cougar Club Play of the Year, with a walkoff home run to beat Utah.

Wolfe thought he might get drafted after his sophomore season his phone never rang. He returned for his junior year where he hit .275 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI.

Wolfe still had his senior year to make some noise, but while he was catching in an intra -squad game he tried to throw a runner out and his elbow gave out.

"Someone tried to steal and when I threw the ball I hear a pop in elbow which was strange because I've never had elbow problems. I knew something was wrong," Wolfe said.

Wolfe says he will have work done on his elbow after the season, but to do it now could cost him a chance at swinging the bat, something he can still do, so he has made the transition from starting catcher to designated hitter.

"The first couple of series were extremely awkward. I would hit and wait three or four innings before I could do something again. I would pace up and down dugout, I just couldn't sit still," Wolfe said. "Finally coach (Ryan) Roberts asked me to keep spray charts (track the areas opposing players hit the ball) and help position players. It keeps me in the game and it has helped out a lot."

Wolfe appears to be making the adjustment to his new role. Last week he was named the Rawlings Player of the Week in the West Coast Conference after he hit .500 for the week (7-for-14), driving in four and scoring four runs as BYU won 3-of-4 games.

Wolfe drove home the game-winning run in BYU's 8-6 win over Loyola Marymount to take 2-of-3 games from the conference leader. Prior to his game-winning hit, he went 2-for-4 with an RBI double in the ninth inning to help BYU beat Utah 9-6.

"I think he's trying to make the most of his final year here. He's starting to turn it on. He had a couple of big hits last week," Law said. "His batting average coming up, but I'm not a big batting average fan. I'm more concerned with quality at-bats and he probably leads team in quality at bats, along with Tyler Chauncey."

Law has watched Wolfe progress as a person and a baseball player since he arrived in 2009. He has gone from a highly touted prospect, to a senior who mentors younger players and provides the team leadership along with extra-base hits in an effort to help the Cougars get to postseason play.

Now Wolfe's goal is to lead BYU to an NCAA berth. He envisions it, he believes in it and he is part of a core of senior leaders on the team who are putting their time in to make it happen.

But just like Wolfe found out earlier in his career, baseball and life can throw you a curveball on a 3-0 count. You are never quite sure how BYU's baseball season or Wolfe's career will turn out.

BYU is second in the WCC with a 6-3 record (17-13 overall). If the Cougars don't win the conference they must hope for an NCAA at-large berth.

Goals do not always turn out how you plan them. All you can do is put yourself in a position to succeed and then you must be content that you have done all you can do.

• Neil Warner can be reached at

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