First Posted: 5/4/2011
Going viral, by definition, is what happens when a topic of interest spreads across the Internet like wildfire, shared from user-to-user across social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
And thanks to a local outfielder with a lethal bat, ESPN.
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Keith Whitman became an online sensation last week after hitting the 41st home run of his career — a new school record — in the fourth inning of a 20-5 win over St. Andrews on April 25.
It wasn’t just the deep fly to center that captured headlines on ESPN.com’s “Going Viral” segment. In his previous plate appearance, Whitman’s nose was broken when he was hit in the face by a pitch up and in. Instead of coming out of the game, the 6-foot senior from Elkin patched up his face and stayed in the lineup.
Whitman gave his team a 7-1 lead an inning later when he took a high fastball on the outside of the plate to dead center for a dinger that broke the school’s previous mark for home runs set by Major League Baseball draftee Jason Morales.
The “broken nose home run” became an instant classic. The third-inning plunk was the 12th time this season Whitman had been hit by a pitch.
“We knew we had two cameras on the game and a chance of watching Keith’s highlight again,” said Colin Bonnicksen, UNCP’s Assistant Media Relations Director who moonlights as the Braves’ video play-by-play announcer. “Our staff thought it was remarkable. After I got all the footage, I clipped it together and sent it in.”
Bonnicksen is a daily viewer of SportsNation, an interactive sports debate broadcast on ESPN hosted by Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle that features a large amount of fan generated content.
“We knew we had to send it to someone,” Bonnicksen said. “I was hoping it would end up being one of the videos selected (by ESPN). I figured it would be.”
The “wow” factor set in quickly for UNCP’s SID staff and the fans in attendance after witnessing a baseball rarity that will most likely never be duplicated.
“How often do you see a kid break his nose one inning and set a school record the next?” Bonnicksen said. “It’s a pretty unique thing to see.”
Whitman, a .373 hitter, has gone deep four times in the last five games including a two-run shot on Senior Day against Chowan on April 26. In 169 career starts for Paul O’Neil’s club, the burly right-handed slugger has 151 RBI.
“The fact that he homered in his last at-bat at home makes the (broken nose home run) even better for me,” Todd Anderson said, UNCP’s Athletics Media Relations Director. “I was on my feet willing him on.”
The 10th-ranked UNCP baseball team opens play in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament Sunday at 9 a.m. in Columbus, Ga., against Georgia College. After notching their single-season record 38th victory last weekend, the Braves are seeking their first-ever trip to NCAA Regional play.
Staff writer Brad Crawford can be reached at (910) 272-6119 or at [email protected]