ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Alex Real has had a spectacular junior season behind the plate for the University of New Mexico baseball team. In his first full season as a starter replacing Lobo great Mitch Garver, Real is batting .343 with an NCAA-leading 25 doubles. He has driven in 46 runs, is slugging .502 and has played solid defense behind the plate, throwing out a quarter of all would-be base stealers and collecting 31 assists.
His work has not gone unnoticed and Thursday the Greater Wichita Sports Commission named him one of 15 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, which is given to the best catcher in the nation.
"It's a tremendous honor," Real said. "I'm just trying to do everything I can to help the team win."
He's certainly doing his part. In addition to leading the nation in doubles, Real is 50th in hits and 51st in RBIs. His RBI total is sixth among all Division I catchers.He has also been reliably steady, as his average has not dropped below .304 at any point all season. He's the only catcher from the Mountain West on the list, one of just two who plays outside the Central or Eastern time zones and one of just three that plays west of the Mississippi River.
"It's well deserved," UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said . "He is another in a long string of great Lobo catchers, and he should be an All-American."
If Real is named an All-American this season it would mark the fifth time in the last seven seasons a Lobo backstop was honored as one of the best in the nation. Not only was Garver a two-time finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, but he was also a two-time All-American in 2012 and 2013. Rafael Neda preceeded Garver and was a Freshman All-American in 2008 and earned All-America honors in 2010.
Ballots will be sent to the national voting panel at the end of May for a vote to determine the three finalists for the award, who will be announced June 3, 2014. A final vote among the national committee will occur during the College World Series. All finalists will be brought to Wichita and the winner will be announced at the 17th Annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet on June 26, 2014.