Florida International's Garrett Wittels hits a double against Florida Atlantic...

Florida International's Garrett Wittels hits a double against Florida Atlantic during the third inning of an NCAA college baseball game. (May 22, 2010) Credit: AP

When Robin Ventura's cell phone buzzes with a new text message these days, he's gotten pretty good at guessing what it's going to say. Usually, it goes like this: Garrett Wittels just got another hit.

Wittels, a Florida International sophomore, has pulled to within four games of Ventura's Division I hitting-streak record of 58 games, set in 1987.

In a telephone interview with Newsday this week, Ventura said he first heard about Wittels' streak a few weeks ago when it surpassed 40 games. Ever since then, the number of people who have begun reaching out to Ventura has grown considerably.

That's why Ventura hasn't had any problems receiving updates on Wittels' at-bats even though the former Mets and Yankees third baseman hasn't seen any of his games on TV. "I get enough people calling or texting me," he said, laughing. "I hear whether he's got a hit or not."

While Ventura stops short of saying he's rooting for Wittels to break his record, he is quick to point out that he won't celebrate if Wittels falls short. "It's kind of cool to have it, but if he breaks it, he deserves it," Ventura said. "I'm not sitting around with a bottle of champagne hoping he's going to lose his streak."

Ventura reached out to Wittels by phone Tuesday and said he wished him luck. In some respects, Ventura can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to chase a hitting streak these days, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. It was hard enough for him to do it at Oklahoma State without the thought of his name appearing on the ESPN crawl, he said.

"I didn't have to deal with cell phones and texts and e-mails and the Internet," Ventura said. "The access to him has to be a lot greater - I'm assuming that - but there are so many ways for people to get a hold of you now. I'm sure he's getting crushed with that stuff, which is much tougher than I had it."

Ventura's 58-game hitting streak ended 23 years ago tomorrow, when he went 0-for-4 against future major-leaguer Jack McDowell (his Chicago White Sox teammate a few years later) and then reached on an error with two outs in the ninth inning. Ventura said it all ultimately took a backseat to winning the College World Series game that night.

Wittels is in a similar situation, with FIU facing Texas A & M this afternoon in an NCAA Tournament game in Miami. "That should help him as far as just mentally going into the game thinking we want to win more than I want to get a hit," Ventura said.

If FIU advances to the College World Series in a few weeks, Ventura will be there to meet Wittels, regardless of what happens in the next few days. Ventura is scheduled to be an analyst for ESPN.

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