GREENSBORO – Xavier Macklin cell phone rings last fall. It’s former A&T baseball teammate Marquis Riley looking for some advice. Riley is a part of the Atlanta Braves spring training where he writes on his @TheRiley_23 Twitter account on March 15: “First spring training game today. I’m tired.”
But in the fall, he is not sure what to expect.
“I just told him when he gets to spring training just take it all in and enjoy it to the max because you deserve to be there,” Macklin says, recalling the conversation. Even after talking to Macklin, a former Aggie and 12th round pick by the Oakland A’s in 2011, Riley thinks it is wise to seek even more advice from former Aggies.
He reaches out to C.J. Beatty, a 26th round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009. Beatty advises him to be himself, work hard and show the coaches you want to be there. Let your talent do the rest. Riley also reaches out to Nick Rogers, a former Aggies ace and teammate who plays for the Kansas City Royals Double-A affiliate in northwest Arkansas.
For Riley, it is refreshing to know that despite going to a school not known nationwide for his baseball prowess, there are Aggies out there he can call on for words of wisdom.
“When you’re a player at A&T, it gives you hope,” Riley says. “Before I got there it was good to see guys in the program like Jeremy Jones and Charlie Gamble get recognized for putting up numbers. I looked up to them. When you’re coming from an HBCU and chasing a dream, it gives you drive to keep pursuing that dream because you know guys have made it coming out of A&T.”
Riley is an Efland, N.C., native where he ends his Orange High School career as a two-time All-State performer and the Class 2-A Player of the Year in 2008. He fields offers from schools that play in power conferences but those schools routinely tell him he can sit three years before competing for a starting position. When A&T recruits him, he gets assurances that he can compete for a starting position the moment he steps on campus.
After sitting down with his parents and mentors, Riley signs with A&T. “If you can play the scouts will find you. Just put up the numbers and they’ll find you,” Riley recalls then head coach Keith Shumate telling him during the recruiting process.
Riley lives up to his end of the bargain. Riley starts his collegiate career in 2009 and concludes it 2012 by posting a career batting average of .354 with 19 home runs and 158 RBI. As a junior in 2011, he leads the nation in toughest to strikeout with just four strikeouts in 207 at-bats. In fact, he strikes out only 23 times in 786 career at-bats as an Aggie.
“It’s so funny because I get this question all the time. I couldn’t tell you why,” Riley says about why he does not strikeout. “The best I can tell you is God blessed me with good eye-hand coordination. I never work on my two-strike approach. I never shorten my stance with two strikes. I don’t do any of those things. It’s worked for me. I can’t explain why.”
As he enters his junior year with all his impressive numbers, Riley begins to wonder if Shumate’s words will hold true.