By Jeffrey Swindoll
Being a pitcher in the rugged Big 12 Conference can be a cruel position at times. Pitchers are often plagued by various arm injuries, surgeries and long roads to recovery before getting to play again.
It can also be a painfully unrewarding position, but any good college baseball club is anchored by a deep pitching staff.
“I think if you look at the best teams in college baseball, you’ll see that most of them, if not all of them, have a good pitching staff, and I don’t think that’s coincidence,” head coach Steve Smith said.
Two upperclassmen pitchers for the Bears battled injuries to get back on the mound.
Senior Dillon Newman and redshirt junior Brad Kuntz are two of Baylor’s starting pitchers, and both start on the mound for Big 12 Conference games.
Earning those starts and continuing to produce has been an eventful saga to fight through.
Last season, Kuntz was expected to be in Baylor’s starting rotation. Two days before the first game of his junior year, all that changed.
Kuntz did not play his entire junior season due to a serious back injury that took him by surprise.
“They said I had a chronic stress fracture from high school that healed over but didn’t heal all the way,” Kuntz said. “Just over the time I went from fall to spring to summer for three straight years without any break I think just gave constant tear without giving myself a break.”
Like most college athletes, Kuntz has never really had an offseason or time to relax in his college career. All that time training and throwing took its toll on Kuntz though. It was devastating news to hear.
“I think the worst part about it all was the timing of it,” Kuntz said. “All my hard work up until that point was looking like it paid off, but it was kind of taken away from me.”
Newman went through a much shorter phase of recovery in the middle of this season, but any time away from the mound to deal with an injury can be a tedious and frustrating process for any athlete.
Newman started in each of Baylor’s non-conference series games leading up to Big 12 play, but had to sit out for over two weeks before getting a start against a conference opponent. He was benched to nurse a minor injury soon before his expected start in game three of the conference series opener against Texas Tech on March 14.Sitting out for any period of time can be agonizing for a competitor, but Newman had already seen what Kuntz had to go through last season. Newman said he admires and commends Kuntz for his discipline during his recovery.
“That thing with his back last year had to be really hard with him,” Newman said. “I can kind of relate with my arm, having to miss those two conference series, but I can’t imagine having to miss a whole season.”
Kuntz’s road back was proof in and of itself that injuries can come out of nowhere, but hard work can put you right back. However, that of course is never a guarantee. Newman certainly did not face the career-ending doubts that Kuntz faced, but both of their injuries have made them stronger and more mature competitors. The good news for Newman and Kuntz, as well as all of Baylor baseball, is that they are pitching exceptionally well. Newman and Kuntz hold a collective record of 7-2, each throwing over 35 strikeouts in five games. Each also boast an ERA between 2.64-2.68 this season. The pitching staff led by Newman and Kuntz has been the pulse of the Bears’ success this season.