July 23, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Playing in one of the top summer leagues in the country has not bothered University of New Mexico baseball players Luke Campbell or Alex Real, as both were named to the Northwoods League All-Star Game as an outfielder and catcher, respectively.
Real, playing for the Eau Claire Express, has hit a slump as of late, but has shown signs of breaking out of it and has been roping the ball throughout the entire summer. Now a .235 batter with five bombs and 20 RBIs, he has been voted in as one of the two catchers for the South Division. Real just started catching his senior year at Boulder Creek High School, and did not catch a game this past spring for the Lobos during his freshman season. Eau Claire manager Dale Varsho has given him the opportunity to improve this summer, as he has been behind the plate nine times.
"Alex can hit, he's got a really strong stroke in the batter's box, which is why I think he made it, not so much his defensive skills right now," Varsho said. "He has the quickest reactions I have ever seen. He just has to control them a little bit better. Once he learns how to catch and how to do the right things, he is going to be a phenomenal player."
Even though the defensive game is a work in progress, Real's reaction to the selection was genuine.
"Wow,” he said. “ (I’m) really pumped. I was actually surprised when (my coach) told me. I have played alright, but I knew there were guys who had better numbers than I did, but I am very honored to be a part of it."
When it comes to catching, Real is working on it extremely hard before batting practice, when no one else is watching. Trying to be a catcher this upcoming season at UNM, it is important for Real to know that he was voted in as a backstop. "It is definitely a confidence booster," he said. "I haven't been catching very long and to be selected as a catcher, that means a lot to me."
Real had a solid freshman year for the Lobos in 2012. He hit .271 with 14 runs, nine doubles, three home runs, and 29 RBIs in 41 games, including 36 starts. He set a Mountain West Tournament championship game record on May 26 with seven RBIs in UNM’s 22-3 victory over San Diego State.
Campbell, meanwhile, entered the 2012 season expecting to be the Lobos’ cleanup hitter, but shortly before the season began he was hit in the face with a ball during batting practice and missed the entire season.
“After (the injury) I was looking to get back out on the field and get a feel for it,” he said. “Once I got back into the swing of things, things started to feel pretty good and I’ve had some success.”
Now that he is healthy once again, Campbell has been one of the league’s best hitters all summer. He has helped lead the Duluth Huskies to second place in the North Division standings and carries a 17-game hitting streak into the All-Star break. He has home runs in three of his last four games, and he ranks tied for second in the league in doubles (18), ninth in runs (39), 11th in RBIs (35) and batting (.350), and fourth in extra base hits (24). He has also stolen 10 bases in 11 attempts. His 57 hits are tied for 15th in the league, but it is impressive considering he has 43 fewer at bats than the league-leader.
“It’s a privilege to be selected into the all-star game,” he said. “It just means that the hard work and everything from this summer is paying off. “
As a junior for the Lobos in 2011 Campbell was third on the team in batting (.301), and second in home runs (five) and slugging (.448). He recorded at least one hit in 28 of the Lobos’ final 32 games as he helped the team win its first MW Tournament championship and advance to the NCAA regionals for the second straight year.
“I love being able to represent UNM during the summer because we’re looking to improve our program,” he said. “Playing up here with guys from all over the country and from schools that are always playing deep into the postseason is great.”
The Northwoods League is a summer baseball league comprised of teams of the top college players from across the nation and North America. All players in the league must have NCAA eligibility remaining in order to participate.
Each team is operated similar to a professional minor league team, providing players an opportunity to play under the same conditions using wooden bats, minor league specification baseballs, experiencing overnight road trips, and playing nightly before fans in a stadium. The Northwoods League has more teams, plays more games, and has more fans than any other summer collegiate league in North America.