Justin Childers has played baseball for most of his life, but the 2014 graduate of Pickerington High School North said it took until last winter to figure out what kind of a player he is.

Justin Childers has played baseball for most of his life, but the 2014 graduate of Pickerington High School North said it took until last winter to figure out what kind of a player he is.

"That just came with relaxation, hard work and dedication," said Childers, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound junior infielder at Ohio Dominican University. "I'm more on the athletic side, a gap-to-gap hitter with some pop who can play some solid defense.

"To sum it up in one phrase, I guess I'm a 'dirtbag.'"

Based on his continued improvement over the past few seasons, Childers also might be able to call himself a major leaguer someday.

Childers earned multiple honors this spring while leading all Division II schools in batting average (.451) and slugging percentage (.846) and ranking fifth in on-base percentage (.526). He was named Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Midwest Region Player of the Year and voted second-team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association, the Division II Conference Commissioners Association and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Such achievements drew the attention of Major League scouts, and Childers anticipated potentially being taken in the MLB Draft that began June 12.

Childers, who said he did not come into his own until his senior season at North and originally signed with Northern Kentucky before transferring to ODU after one semester, called the season "surreal."

Citing discomfort at NKU, Childers soon began planning a return to central Ohio, and Ohio Dominican -- which recruited him in high school -- was happy to provide a landing spot.

Childers started 45 games as a freshman, batting .307 with 24 RBI, and became an even more important cog for ODU as a sophomore with a .327 average, 38 RBI and team-highs in home runs (8) and runs scored (45).

"He is prepared for any situation that comes his way," ODU coach Chris Antonides said. "I'm not sure he has reached his potential. Justin is always there, always working. You can tell him to take a day off or a week off and he doesn't."

Childers felt there was more work to be done after his sophomore season, and part of that involved reading "The Science of Hitting," a 1970 book by Ted Williams, who batted .406 in 1941 with the Boston Red Sox and remains the most recent MLB hitter to hit better than .400 for an entire season.

"I've added a leg kick for extra balance, and that helps me hit offspeed pitches better," Childers said. "I feel more relaxed at the plate. I wondered why I'd been less successful. I love reading the book and it helped me in day-in and day-out."

As a senior at North, Childers earned first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division, all-district and all-state honors after leading the Panthers in batting average (.494), hits (44) and RBI (17) and going 2-3 on the mound with a team-best 1.29 ERA, 21 strikeouts and 10 walks in 21 2/3 innings as the Panthers won a Division I district championship.

"That was when all the work he'd put in on the field and in the weight room really started to show," North coach Tim Thomas said. "He actually wrote a poem when he was in second grade, and my wife was his teacher, about how he'd be a famous baseball player someday. He knew even then what he wanted to be, and he might get that chance."

According to Childers -- who is in his second summer with the Albany Dutchmen, who play in the wooden-bat Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League -- several MLB scouts have discussed his prospects with ODU coaches. Whether Childers would sign and forgo his senior season at ODU would be an "on the spot" decision, he said, with input from his family.

"It's always your dream as a kid playing baseball to be in the major leagues someday," Childers said. "I have always believed I am a dedicated athlete, but to be able to be recognized as someone who potentially could play at that level, it'd be a dream come true.

"I don't feel like I really broke through until my senior year of high school. I am so humbled by all the awards and recognition. I think it's proof that if you work hard and keep at something, good things will happen."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave