BY JEFF FALK
Lebanon County possesses a long and storied history in the sport of baseball. And while over the years the locale has sent a handful of natives on to the majors, unlike football and the NFL, we’ve never produced a player who has enjoyed an extended career competing at the sport’s highest level.
Derek Fisher has a chance to change all that. Or more accurately, the former Cedar Crest standout has the ability – and is going to be afforded the opportunity -to advance his baseball-playing career further than any other Lebanon County native ever has.
Though currently on the shelf with a wrist injury, Fisher is a junior outfielder on the University of Virginia’s number-two ranked NCAA Division One baseball team. Fisher is also one of the top amateur baseball prospects in the country.
“I’ve always grown up to have expectations for myself, probably higher than anyone else’s,” said Fisher, by phone from Charlottesville on Wednesday. “I know what I’ve been blessed with. I came to UVA to become the best baseball player I can be. We’ve obviously had some very talented guys come through the County. Thankfully, I’m not the first, and that gives me an opportunity to go people who have gone before me.”
Fisher doesn’t feel comfortable talking about the upcoming Major League Baseball draft, or doesn’t want to take any chances of affecting his draft status with words.
The 2014 amateur-player entry draft will be conducted June 5-7. And the truth of the matter is that Fisher, a native of Rexmont, will likely be selected in the first round of it.
Some draft experts have the 6-3, 210-pounder going as high as sixth overall, while almost everyone agrees he should be among the first 20 players selected.
“I hope to be drafted,” said Fisher, a 2011 graduate of Cedar Crest. “If I knew that (he was going to be taken for sure) people would think I’m some sort of psychic. It’s not something I can guess about. It’s still up in the air. It’s still a couple of months away, but I’m eligible to be drafted.
“I’ve never been a college eligible draftee, so it’s new to me,” continued Fisher. “It’s obviously an exciting time of the year. Our team is full of talent. It’s going to be fun to see how far we go the rest of the year.”
While three years ago Fisher chose the Cavaliers over professional baseball, the franchise which selects him in June will likely make him a financial offer that will be difficult to refuse. But still, Fisher hasn’t totally ruled out returning to Virginia for his senior season.
“I could come back for my senior year,” said Fisher. “It’s obviously a difficult process. To cut something like that short, it would be a difficult decision. If you ask any college baseball player, they would tell you that professional baseball is a dream. To live a dream that I’ve had since I was five, that’s something I wouldn’t give up.
“The goal is just to make baseball simple,” continued Fisher. “Just get quality at-bats and hitting the baseball hard, and be a leader on the field. I want to win a lot of games and see how far we can go.”
Before his injury, Fisher started all 14 games for the Cavaliers and hit .333 with a .397 on-base percentage and a .451 slugging percentage. In his two-plus seasons in Charolettsville, Fisher has started 120 of a possible 123 games blasted 14 home runs, 12 triples and driven in 104 runs.
Currently, the Cavaliers sport a stellar 28-5 overall mark.
Following a stellar career at Cedar Crest, Fisher was chosen in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers. Fisher turned down an attractive financial offer from the Rangers to accept a Division One athletic grant-in-aid to attend Virginia.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” said Fisher. “The draft process was a lot of fun. Coming to school here, it was going to take a lot for me to pass it up. They give you four years to hone that ability. You mature a lot in college.
“If I went back and had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” added Fisher. “I knew it was going to be the best for me. I realize that even more now. I’d do it all over again.”
At Cedar Crest, Fisher set a program record with 24 career dingers. Following his senior campaign, Fisher was tabbed as one of the top ten high-school baseball prospects in the country and the finest from Pennsylvania.
“It was a great experience,” said Fisher of his initial draft experience. “I gave up that experience for something better. Going through that experience in high school, it was a lot of fun. Coming to UVA, it was something that made me a better person and a better baseball player.”
“I’m so proud of the development Derek Fisher has had in this program,” said Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor. “He came in as a very highly touted player that needed to learn how to play the game and learn to develop as a baseball player. His skill set is as good as you’ll find – his ability to run, his athleticism, his hitting ability. All those at-bats and all those games he’s played in here, and then away in the summer, has brought him to the point where he is now. He’s very much a calm, confident player, and that’s what you need out of your veteran players.”
Fisher is expected to fully recover from a right wrist injury sustained against Duke on March 12, and it is not expected to affect his draft stock. Five days later, Fisher had surgery to repair a fractured hamate bone in his wrist.
At the time of the injury, Fisher was expected to miss four to six weeks of action.
“I feel really well,” said Fisher. “It’s coming along. It’s getting better everyday. It’s the first surgery I’ve ever had, and I’ve been doing everything I can to get back as soon as I can. It was sort of a freak accident on a swing. It was a result of the normal grind of baseball. Something happened one day and it let go. Injuries happen on every level.
“It’s (his return) something you’ve got to trust the people around you with,” Fisher continued. “I couldn’t tell you when I’ll be back. It’s something I’ve never dealt with before. But there’s no question it’s improving every single day. It’s astronomically better than it was.”
When he does return, Fisher fully expects to pick up exactly where he left off.
“I could definitely tell that I’ve made strides since my freshman year,” said Fisher. “That’s all you can really ask for. I feel really good and I expect to come back and hit the ground running and contribute right away. I don’t anticipate needing games to get back into playing shape. I expect to come back as strong, or stronger, than I was before the injury. It’s been a good time off. I’ve been able to do a lot of strength training.
“Things really haven’t changed for the team,” continued Fisher. “We started the season winning ball games. We have a very talented team. They’re fun to watch. We’re five weeks in, and we’re playing better every single game.”
Derek Fisher’s University of Virginia Fielding Statistics