PEELER: Meet the Poulks
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. They aren’t brothers, and they aren’t all that similar, other than having the same last name, hitting in the top half of the batting order for the NC State baseball team and playing on the same side of the field.
But first cousins Dallas and Drew Poulk born just two months apart in different areas of the state are expected to play a huge role in the success of the Wolfpack’s 2009 baseball season, which begins today at approximately 3 p.m. at Doak Field at Dail Park in the second game of the Summit Hospitality Invitational Baseball Tournament.
Even though they are often mistaken for siblings now that they are on the same team, there are fundamental differences in their personalities and the passionate way they both play the game they love.
Dallas, named recently to Baseball America’s preseason All-America team, is a scappy, fast-talking fireball, with dirty knees from diving on the infield to make defensive plays. He’s not exactly Napolean short, but he doesn’t cast a shadow over many of his teammates.
Drew, who transferred to NC State after stops at two other schools, is 6-foot-3 and a muscular 200 pounds. He's a hard-hitting outfielder who homered in his first collegiate at-bat. But his personality is much more reserved, especially compared to Dallas.
“I don’t know whether it was their dads (brothers Fletcher and Steve), or their grandpa (Bob) or their coaches along the way, but someone really taught those two how to play baseball,” Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. “They play the game hard, they play to win, they enjoy playing it and they play it the right way.
“But they really aren’t anything alike.”
Perhaps that’s why Drew lit out from Morehead City and West Carteret High School for the University of North Carolina, while Dallas came to NC State straight out of Fayetteville’s Pine Forest High School. The latter begins his third season as a starter in the infield and as the Wolfpack’s productive lead-off hitter.
The two had never really made plans to compete for the same college team, because they never spent much time together growing up. The families saw each other only at Thanksgiving, when everyone gathered in Fayetteville for the annual food-fest. They did play on a couple of summer traveling teams, but it was never their goal to end up wearing the same jerseys.
That made for some interesting family reunions. Their grandfather had a “House Divided” license plate on his car and would go back and forth between the two schools to see his grandsons play, just as he had gone to the beach to see Drew’s older brother Matt play for UNC-Wilmington years before.
Drew spent three semesters in Chapel Hill and went with the Tar Heels to the 2007 College World Series in Omaha. But, after seeing a lack of playing time in his future, he transferred to St. Petersburg (Fla.) College last spring, where he hit 10 homers and drove in 54 runs in 51 games.
He then signed with the Wolfpack, making him a rare modern player who has competed for both schools in the heated rivalry.
“I still remember where I was when Drew told me he was going to Carolina on the deck of a beach cottage at Emerald Isle,” Avent said. “He was a guy I wanted very badly. I was a little ticked. But these things have a way of working themselves out. He is here now, where he belongs.”
It’s also helped family relations.
“Our grandpa always wanted to see us play together,” Drew Poulk said. “So everyone in the family is excited about the opportunity to see us play. We want to have a big family reunion in Omaha [site of the College World Series].”
Drew, expected to start in right field and hit clean-up in the batting order in today’s opener, is excited to be wearing red. He’s already given Avent a lasting memory and perhaps a glimpse of the future, back during the fall intra-squad series: in four consecutive swings over two games, he hit two home runs and two doubles.
No one expects him to do the same thing all season, but his goal is to be one of the team’s most productive players.
“All I want to do is come into the season and try to be an impact player, to produce RBIs, get on base so others can drive me in,” Drew said. “I just want to be able to help the team as much as I can.”
Dallas is in his third year as a starter for the Wolfpack, a steady performer who is looking to improve on his slightly diminished numbers from last season. After flirting with .400 as a freshman he hit .394 with eight doubles, a homer and 26 RBIs he tried to beef up his bat as a sophomore.
He hit eight homers and drove in 33 runs, but his batting average dipped to .286 and he struck out twice as many times.
“I didn’t really need to be more productive last year, I just put it into my head that I needed to be,” Dallas said. “It didn’t work out the way I wanted. I tried to do too much in my at-bats. I learned that calming the game down is the best thing to do. That is why the lead-off man is there, to get on base and score runs.
“I’m getting back to that mentality, to be a little looser when I go up to the plate.”
And he is confident when he gets on base that Drew will make sure he crosses home plate, with the whole family cheering from the stands.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.