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JJ Wetherholt Keeps WVU Baseball Loose with ‘Planet of the Apes’ Celebrations

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WVU's JJ Wetherholt practicing at North Carolina's Boshamer Stadium on Thursday, June 6, 2024, ahead of playing UNC in the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals. (Mitchell Northam, WV Sports Now)
WVU's JJ Wetherholt practicing bunting at North Carolina's Boshamer Stadium on Thursday, June 6, 2024, ahead of playing UNC in the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals. (Mitchell Northam, WV Sports Now)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Some people are fans of Star Wars. Some love Lord of the Rings. Some can recite passages from the Harry Potter Books. Some people can tell you the first comic book that Spiderman first appeared in: Amazing Fantasy No. 15 from 1962.

Everyone has their thing. We’re all nerds about something.

For West Virginia shortstop JJ Wetherholt, that thing is the Planet of the Apes film franchise, and his affinity for it has spread like a wildfire – no, like an invasion of monkeys – through the Mountaineers’ clubhouse.

As WVU’s practice came to a close on a blazing hot Thursday afternoon in UNC’s Boshamer Stadium, and as the team broke its huddle, it was easy to hear a few “ooh-oohs” and “ah-ahs” as the players imitated the sounds of apes while beating their chests. It’s one of the ways that the Mountaineers have kept loose while going on this historic postseason run, where they find themselves in the Super Regional stage of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, trying to extend the career of their soon-to-be-retired head coach for just a few more games.

“This is actually probably the first June practice we’ve ever had in our program,” WVU skipper Randy Mazey said.

As he spoke, players crowded around behind assembled reporters, trying to distract Mazey and throw him off his talking points. The 58-year-old unscrewed the bottle of water he was holding and tossed it on them, then said, “If you were to look behind you right now, you would see a scene that you haven’t seen before. Look at these guys. This is out of control, how much fun they’re having right now. But this isn’t unusual, for what these guys are like. As much as they give it to me, I give it right back to them.”

Much of the Mountaineers’ recently found fun has been engineered by Wetherholt.

WVU Baseball star JJ Wetherholt practicing at North Carolina's Boshamer Stadium on Thursday, June 6, 2024, ahead of playing UNC in the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals. (Mitchell Northam, WV Sports Now)

WVU’s JJ Wetherholt practicing at North Carolina’s Boshamer Stadium on Thursday, June 6, 2024, ahead of playing UNC in the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals. (Mitchell Northam, WV Sports Now)

It all started after Wetherholt watched one of the Planet of the Apes movies – 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is his favorite, he says – before playing in an intrasquad scrimmage earlier this season. All the Mountaineers played pretty well that day, and the atmosphere was light, and featured Wetherholt beating his chest and letting out ape-like sounds after making a big defensive play.

Heading into the Tucson, Ariz. regional in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, where the Mountaineers were the third-seeded team and weren’t expected to advance after suffering two straight losses in the Big 12 Tournament, Wetherholt decided he should keep up his ape act to loosen up his teammates.

“And so I was like, ‘You know, we played pretty good at intrasquad. So, how about just treat this like an intrasquad?’ And then I was just a gorilla all weekend,” Wetherholt said. “It was just something we had fun with.”

Soon, Wetherholt’s ape act went a bit viral. To end the first inning of the Mountaineers’ June 1 win over Grand Canyon at regionals, he leapt into the air to snag down a line drive, then outran a runner back to second base to complete a double play all on his own. After his right foot touched the bag, Wetherholt kept sprinting toward WVU’s dugout – beating his chest and screaming like an ape.

More than 22,000 people watched the clip on X (Twitter).

“He’s crazy. When he’s loose, everybody else is loose,” senior left-handed pitcher Derek Clark said of Wetherholt. “He’s our leader for a reason. We all follow him. We’re just going to stay loose and do our thing.”

Added sophomore Sam White: “It’s a game for a reason. You might as well have fun while you’re out there. I’m not even making plays and I’m pounding my chest. When JJ.made that … there was no camera on me, but I was going ape crazy.”

On Thursday night, the team is going to a local movie theatre in Chapel Hill to see the newest installment in the franchise, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. On Friday, they’ll face the fourth-overall-seeded Tar Heels at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

The 2023 Big 12 Player of the Year, Wetherholt missed some of February and all of March with a hamstring injury. The Mars, Pa. native played well since returning and has a .345 batting average, an OPS mark of 1.108, 30 walks, 40 hits and 30 RBI in 116 at-bats. Many, including experts at MLB.com, project him to be a top 10 pick in the upcoming amateur draft.

Until then, WVU’s JJ Wetherholt will continue going ape-wild for the Mountaineers.

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