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You have been my life for the past 16 years. 16 years of coaches, teammates, wins, and losses. Looking back, I can see all the faces of impactful people in my journey. The crazy thing about this journey is that it never should have happened; it was a happy accident.
Coming from a small mountain town, who would have ever thought that my college career would come to an end at a Division I school in Indiana? College baseball seemed like an unattainable, far-fetched dream that every little leaguer has. Now being faced with potentially my last home series coming up, it is surreal to see how fast it has come to fruition. The game has a way of feeling like it is never ending. Then it’s basically over.
Looking back, I see the good times and the tough times. But odd enough, I am almost fonder of the tough times. The long JUCO bus rides to go play in a town that I had never heard of were oddly more rewarding than taking down nationally-ranked Power Five opponents. Playing the game just to compete in front of no one really shows you quickly if you love the game and the lifestyle and I was hooked almost immediately. One of the fond memories I look back to is from my freshman year, when I experienced one of the most emotional moments of my life.
Memories From Lamar
Wade Parker was a junior college baseball player at Lamar Community College. When he finished up his freshman year, he felt called to be a part of something bigger than him. He wanted to be a firefighter and he was accepted as a Granite Mountain Hotshot. This is an elite group of firefighters who are dropped into the critical wildfires.
In the second semester of my freshman year at Lamar, we went to a movie premiere as a team for a movie called Only the Brave, which was premiering in the one theater in town. I had heard of Wade before, and I had seen the small photo of him pinned in the whiteboard in the locker room. Little did I know that night would change my life forever. We watched the movie, which admittedly didn’t have much to do with Wade other than a couple scenes. We left the theater as a team, and I looked around and saw some of the guys starting to tear up. It was the first time in my life that I had seen a team be so affected by someone’s story. But he was a part of our story as a team.
A few weeks later, we played at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona, which was only a few miles away from where Wade had tragically lost his life. As a team we had the privilege of meeting his father and going to see some meaningful moments from the film as well as getting to hear his father speak about the concept of team. This is the most impactful moment of my college career and really showed me the concept of team early on in my career.
My freshman year, we fell just short of a championship and took second place. I showed up to school the next season thinking about seeing Trinidad State College dogpiling on the field as we had to watch. We had a good team of returners coming back and we had a brand-new coach, as our head coach had retired the previous year after winning over a thousand games. It was a new team with a new chance, and we got straight to work.
We ended up going through a tough opening stretch of the season and Coach Buck sat us down in the locker room. I remember him talking about how this group is a championship team. We had hit a bump in the road, which had plagued previous teams that I had been a part of, but this team felt different. I don’t remember the wins and losses, but I do remember the run that we went on after that. We truly turned our season around. We found ourselves second in the conference as the regular season came to an end and we were given a second chance at winning in Trinidad. We found a way to win, and it was the first time I had experienced what it was like to be a champion at the collegiate level. It’s something I have been chasing ever since.
After winning the conference we hosted the tournament to go to the World Series with Trinidad State, Central Arizona and College of Southern Nevada, who came to town being storied programs as well as top teams in the country. My final game as a Lamar Lope came against the eventual junior college national champions, Central Arizona.
Reflecting on my time in Lamar, I am very proud of the man that the school and program turned me into. It taught me how to fail, compete, and win. But most of all, it taught me what it was like to be a part of a winning culture as well as being a good teammate. After our season came to a close, a major decision was upon me: deciding what school I would like to attend for my last two years of eligibility. Eventually, after a few visits, I made my decision to attend Ball State University.
Moving Onto Muncie
Ball State was the best team to give me the opportunity to compete for them. Their previous season in 2019 they had a record of 38-18 and second in the Mid-American Conference. Ball State had a first-round pitching prospect the year before and seemed to be the best fit to develop as a player as well as a man. Rich Maloney was a seasoned head coach who had a fire for winning and teaching life through the game of baseball. After a good fall of getting my feet wet to the Division I game and all the differences that came with it, I found myself preparing for the first weekend series in Statesboro, Georgia.
Georgia Southern was the first NCAA game I played in, and I had a very memorable outing. I can still remember my first strikeout and the feeling when I took the mound. The feeling of overwhelming anxiety, my legs shaking, but not from fear. I was so excited for the opportunity to compete, and after a deep breath, I took the mound out of the pen on a Friday night and felt at home. My first game was memorable as well because I had had some success early in the game but was shown the level of margins after an inning had gotten away. The line between winning and losing in baseball is so fragile and the margins are so tight, something that would continue throughout my career.
Sixteen games into the season we got the call when we were in Charleston, South Carolina that some of the leagues were going to be canceling their season. COVID-19 had started its rampage through the US and subsequently college baseball. At the time, it felt like the worst imaginable thing.
After everything settled, I honestly think it was the best possible thing for me as a player. It gave me a free sixteen games to see where I am as a player and gave me a five-month period to focus on training and spending time back home in Durango. These times are some of my fondest memories with baseball. It took out the pressure and the job-like attributes of the game and really ignited my love for the game again. Just going to the field with my friends focused on getting better for the chance to get to play again and be a part of the team that I loved.
That summer we came back to campus, albeit a completely different campus that I was used to. After a fall full of positives, it was time to play again. The first series of the year was against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson. This would be an exciting game for us as we got to play a Top 10 team to start the season, as well as getting to go close to home for me. We ended up dropping game one in a decent game, but we gained the confidence to believe we could win. We had a good pitcher on the mound for game two and we ended up beating them in extra innings to even the series.
Game three was a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. Luke (Jaksich) ended up starting the game for us and he had given us a good start but had run into some trouble early into the game. I was able to come into the game and proceeded to throw the best game of my career to date. The stat line has faded from memory, but the feeling of competing and being so proud to wear Ball State on my chest has stayed with me to this day. It was the beginning of a special year.
The team ended up losing only one series all year with a series win over Kentucky and two wins against Arizona. We had put together a magical run, but we found ourselves in a two-team race at the end of the season. Us and Central Michigan were fighting for the bid to the NCAA tournament. After a season of a ton of marquee wins and fighting for the MAC championship, we sat in the locker room waiting to see if our names would still get called because we had put ourselves in position to potentially get an at-large bid. As the selection show went on and on and we didn’t hear our name called, we knew that our season was probably over. The pain that we all felt as a team in that moment is a memory that will forever be with me.
Going from the pain of last year’s season to where we are as a team right now has been a story. This team this year has had to overcome so much to get to where we are, and it has been a special season so far for us. We have had so many different faces end up stepping into major roles to help this team win. The season so far has been overwhelmingly positive but has had plenty of moments where things may not have gone our way. From injuries to weather, we have had to truly be a team to get through this season and we have done that very well. One of the signs of a great team isn’t the star power but the depth of the team. I think we have had to use our depth countless times and it has been the true mark of this team.
After all the home games had been played except one, a moment that I had been thinking about finally came true. It was time for my college senior day. This was something that I honestly was never looking forward to because I knew that it would be an emotional day for me and my family. We found ourselves walking onto the field as the PA announcer was reading off my name and some career stats or something like that. I was so focused on enjoying that moment with my family and team that have put so much into me as a player as well as a person. The main takeaway from me that day was to see how my career has been bigger than me. There have been so many different people who have put time and effort into my life, and I was just overcome with gratitude to all who have walked this journey with me.
So, looking back at baseball, I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the game shaping who I am as a man. It truly is amazing where the game will take you if you put in the time and effort, and I am so happy for the new people and places baseball has brought me to.
So, if I had one thing to say to baseball it would be: Thank you for being perfectly imperfect. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
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