I’ve had numerous memories as an athlete at Knox that I’ll always remember and cherish — winning a conference baseball title, getting to share the field with fifty-some friends-turned-brothers, an all-conference season, a team MVP award given to me by my teammates, and pitching in the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament in Oshkosh, Wis.
Then there are the 6 a.m. practices, the tough losses and the heartbreak and the extreme challenges that come with having to balance athletics with academics.
The good memories were great. And the bad ones I’d trade for nothing in the world. I can’t thank Knox College and the Prairie Fire family enough for everything I was able to experience.
But for all the ones enumerated above, the one thing I’ll remember most about being an athlete at Knox College was that the Prairie Fire family gave me a chance.
The fall of my senior year in high school, I was receiving letters and phone calls from a dozen or so collegiate coaches who wanted me to be on their respective teams. Knox College and its head baseball coach, Jami Isaacson, whom I had squared off against numerous times during the summer American Legion season, were the first to recruit me.
In September, though, the toughest portion of my athletic career arrived like a lion. During a fall wooden bat league game with a 3-2 count in the second inning of a game against Midwest Central, I threw a fastball and felt an abrupt pain in the middle of my pitching (right) arm. My humerus, the large bone that runs between the shoulder and elbow, had snapped in half. It was an injury that most doctors had never seen and that most pitchers are never able to overcome. Those that do took fifteen months of rehab before their first action.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I readily admit that growing up, I wanted nothing more than to play baseball every day for the rest of my life. But here, my aspirations of playing baseball in college appeared to be in serious jeopardy. And that dream that I had while growing up appeared to be abruptly cut short.
The aforementioned original dozen of potential suitors included two low-profile Division I programs, which I will refrain from naming in writing. I dreaded having to tell any of the coaches what had happened, but I did so anyway. The two Division I schools were out immediately. They no longer wanted to recruit me, and they seemingly threw me out like the weekly garbage. The Division III schools didn’t, though.
Again, Isaacson was the first to promise that, if I healed, no matter what my progress, there would be a spot for me on the Prairie Fire baseball squad. Several other coaches offered similar promises.
It was the moment I knew I belonged in Division III.
In the beginning of April of my senior year, just seven months after the injury and eight months before I was “supposed to” come back, I was cleared to pitch again. My first game back happened to be in Galesburg, and Isaacson was in attendance, rooting me on even before I’d made my decision whether to attend Knox or choose one of my other top three schools, Carleton College and the University of Chicago.
What I’ve never told him was that the moment I knew he had showed up to that game, I knew I was coming to Knox College. The amount of care that he showed for me that night, and all throughout the recruiting process, was the exact reason I chose to attend Knox, though it was the toughest decision I’ve made to date.
That caring attitude continued throughout my four years from everyone at this institution. It was exactly what I expected, and exactly why I sent in my tuition deposit to Knox back in 2007.
Though I’m speaking as an athlete, the opportunities in all facets that I’ve been given by coming to Knox have benefitted me in so many ways. I’ll be graduating in just over a week, but I’m already looking forward to the first time I can return to the college as an alumnus.
I’ve been the lucky one, but Knox made it happen.