Rigney’s relentlessness leads him back to mound

Sophomore pitcher Will Rigney defies the odds coming back to Baylor baseball after not one, but two season-ending injuries. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

Season-ending injuries are a devastating part of sports and can turn your world upside down. Third-year sophomore right-handed pitcher Will Rigney faced such devastation in back-to-back seasons his first two years at Baylor, shaking his expectations of making an immediate impact. Adversity like this caused Rigney to question if he would ever be able to play the sport he loves again, wondering what his future held.

“It was really hard,” Rigney said. “There were honestly some nights where I just, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play again. Honestly, I mean, my shoulders hurt so bad.”

On the road to recovery, Rigney’s dad, Charlie Rigney, was there for him the entire time. Will Rigney said the former all-conference catcher at Baylor missed watching him play for that two-year stretch.

“He was with me every step of the way,” Rigney said. “But you could tell he was getting antsy. He definitely wanted to see me [play]. Having to come to the ballpark and knowing I wasn’t ever going to pitch last year and the year before, I could tell it kind of hurt him. So I’m glad to be back out there and [that] he can watch, so it’s been fun.”

With so much time spent off the field, the pitcher from Woodway believed if he played for any program outside of Baylor, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come back and play, leaving his baseball future in jeopardy.

“All the [Baylor] coaches, they stuck with me,” Rigney said. “A lot of coaches around the country would have sent me off on my way and I [would’ve] had to go find somewhere else to play. But that’s what I respect most about coach [Jon] Strauss, coach [Mike] Taylor [and] coach Rod[riguez]. They’re great people and they’re great coaches.”

One of the many coaches Rigney respects is head coach Steve Rodriguez, who couldn’t be happier to see the way Rigney has battled in his rehabilitation to get back on the mound.

“Watching his work ethic over the past couple years, trying to get healthy and trying to recover from the things that he’s gone through, it’s been really impressive,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if anybody is more proud and excited to get him on the mound.”

After notching his first start of 2022 on Sunday, the third-year sophomore pitched a career-high four innings, slinging six strikeouts, another career-best. Being back on the mound felt amazing for Rigney, as he said he hasn’t felt this good since the fall of his freshman year.

“Last year and then obviously freshman year during the spring, I just wasn’t right,” Rigney said. “My main focus right now is just feeling good. I felt awesome [on Sunday], just feels good to be back out there and help the team win.”

Seeing Rigney start against then-No. 23 Duke University made Rodriguez glad he took part in helping shape Rigney’s ability to get back on the diamond.

“Just by watching when you see these kids and what they go through in the recovery and through the rehab, then you actually get this opportunity to see them go out there and perform, it just gets you excited,” Rodriguez said. “One, you’re proud of them because they have the wherewithal and the fortitude to kind of continue it. Two, just knowing that they’ve done everything right and you want to see them succeed more than anything itself just because that’s what it’s all about. They put everything into it and you want to see that all that hard work kind of play out for him the way it’s supposed to.”

A teammate who gets a great view of Rigney’s outings is sophomore infielder Tre Richardson, who always feels confident letting the “Gamer” take the reins on the pitcher’s hill.

“I just love the fact that, despite all the talent that he has, I just love the fact that he’s a gamer,” Richardson said. “He’s going to go out there and he’s going to try to win games for us and that’s big to play defense behind somebody who’s trying to get you work and trying to get you outs.”

Being able to rely on Rigney is a relief for Richardson, as he believes this team has a lock-down defense with a guy like that.

“We see what happens when our defense can work. I mean, we’ve turned 10 double plays and we’ve been really good defensively,” Richardson said. “Having a pitcher out there that has your back, and knows I have his back and knows [I’ll] dive for anything and make any play for him; It’s awesome. I love his competitiveness, love the fact that he’s a gamer and I’m happy to see him out there.”

For Rigney, being just down the road from home has been a luxury, his friends and family don’t have to make a long trek to see him play.

“I love that I’m only 15 minutes away from home,” Rigney said. “They [friends and family] can come to most of the games, [which is] nice.”

The Midway High School graduate is ready to carry on with the season in what has been a delayed collegiate career, hoping to shine and stay injury-free with goals to play in the MLB one day.