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Taking Back the Mound

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Taylor Rich Debuts for Lamar Cardinals

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

AUSTIN – American poet Robert Frost once said, “Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.”

In baseball, the interval between starts is often four or five days but in the case of former Lovelady Lion pitcher Taylor Rich the interval was well over five years.

Rich made his first start for the Lamar Cardinals baseball team against the Texas Longhorns on Wednesday, Feb. 21. That’s right, those Texas Longhorns – the owners of five NCAA baseball championships and a #14 ranking this year.

The last time the junior leftie had made a start, he was wearing the maroon and white of Lovelady and based on his stat line from Wednesday, it seemed as if there was never a five-year gap between trips to the mound.

Given the nod by Cardinals’ Head Coach Will Davis, Rich took the mound in 40-degree weather at Disch-Faulk in Austin and was lights out. The first batter he faced flied out to center. He followed that up with a strikeout, a single and then retired the side on a swinging third strike.

His second inning of work, Rich gave up two hits which led to only a single run thanks to the stellar play of the Cardinals’ defense.

In his final inning of work, Rich struck out the first batter and then got a groundout from the next Longhorn he faced. After back-to-back walks, Rich found himself in a jam with runners on first and second.

With the go ahead run in scoring position, Rich seized the moment. On a 2-2 pitch to Texas’ Austin Todd, Rich caught him looking at a fastball for strike three to end the inning.

For the game, Rich pitched three innings, gave up two hits, one run, walked two and struck out four. Not bad for your first start in five years.

After the game, which Lamar lost by a score of 7-2, Davis commented on Rich’s performance.

“I think the way Taylor threw the ball tonight is really exciting,” the coach said. “He held them at bay and they had a hard time hitting his fast ball and that’s a Big 12 team. I think he could be a real factor for us moving forward.”

“The support has been phenomenal,” Rich said as the conversation began. “It was my first start in five years – since my senior year in Lovelady in 2013. It’s been a long time. Last year, I was just a bullpen guy who would come in for an inning or two.”

Asked about his thoughts when he took the mound on Wednesday at Disch-Faulk Field, the left hander said he was almost overwhelmed.

“Going into the night there were so many emotions. I hadn’t started in so long and it was a big stage. I’ll admit, on those first two warm-up pitches, my hand was shaking a little bit. I could blame it on the cold but I was a little nervous! But, after those first two warm-up pitches I was good. It’s still the same dimensions – 60’-6” and 90 feet down the base paths. I just went out there and did what I’ve been doing my whole life,” he said.

On his performance, Rich said his mindset “… was to just pound the (strike) zone and just let my defense play. I did that and it was a quick inning.”

In regard to his first two Ks of the game, Rich remarked it told him a lot about the hitters and how he was pitching.

“They weren’t catching up to my fastball and that gave me a lot of confidence. I didn’t have great stuff with my breaking ball and change-up. I wasn’t locating them very well, but the movement was good. I wasn’t unsatisfied with that. Plus, that set up my fastball and I was able to work it in on the batters. It gave me more confidence as the game went on,” he said.

In the second inning, Rich gave up a run and said he was mad at himself because both hits came on two strike counts.

“The first guy who got on – it (the pitch) was an 0-2 change-up away. I thought it was a phenomenal pitch with great movement. I had to tip my cap to him when he squeezed it up the middle. Ninety-five percent of the time that’s an out,” Rich explained. “The next guy, I think I had him at 1-2, but he squeezed it down the line. There was nothing you could do about it. That’s just baseball. They didn’t hit me too well but like I said, that’s just baseball.”

Now, this article could end right there, but there is so much more to tell.

In his junior year of high school, Rich committed to pitch for the Texas A&M Aggies. However, at some point in the spring of 2012, he partially tore his labrum.

According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, “The labrum is a piece of fibrocartilage (rubbery tissue) attached to the rim of the shoulder socket that helps keep the ball of the joint in place.”

“It was a gradual injury. My junior year I just overused it, pitched a lot of games, but the last game of my junior year, I was throwing fine. I think I struck out 19. That summer, I went to play summer ball with the Brazos Valley Renegades – A&M wanted me to play there – but I was throwing a lot slower. I didn’t have the velocity. My arm didn’t hurt, but it was always kind of tight,” he said.

“Of course, A&M was there. They just weren’t pleased with how I was pitching. I was pitching fine, but I just wasn’t throwing hard. To make a long story short, I went to the doctor and found out I had a minute tear in my labrum. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen the next year and A&M dropped me. They took back the scholarship and told me if I ever got healthy to come back,” Rich indicated.

At the start of his senior year in high school, Rich said he didn’t have a scholarship. Doctors recommended he either go under the knife or try and rehabilitate the shoulder.

“I wish I would have had surgery then, but we learn as we go,” he said.

Rich said he decided to go the rehab route and wound up getting a few offers by the time he graduated “… but my arm still wasn’t the same. It was always bothering me. I would pitch one game and it would be fine and the next it wouldn’t be.”

After graduation, Rich went to Tyler Junior College for the 2013-2014 season.

“My arm was just hanging. I was in a lot of pain so in April of 2014, I wound up having surgery on my labrum. I came back my sophomore year of 2014-2015 and I still wasn’t the same. I got released. At the end of the year, when it came time to make playoff cuts, they said they were going to release me so I could go somewhere else and maybe get some more playing time. I took it as ‘we no longer want you here,’” he said.

“At that point, I was very discouraged,” Rich said.

As the conversation continued, Rich said he attempted to make a comeback but wasn’t getting any interest from coaches.

“Long story short,” he explained, “My third year out of high school, I was just a student. I didn’t play baseball. I was very discouraged. I was mad and borderline depressed. My whole life – I just knew I was going to go play pro ball. I knew I was destined to play baseball. I had the God-given talent but after they cut me, it was like a punch in the gut.”

Despite the setbacks, Rich said he returned to TJC where he “… grew his hair out and started to have some fun. I started living life and tried my best to forget about baseball.”

Around Christmas time of 2015, Rich indicated he began to miss baseball.

“I had a buddy at Mississippi State, a buddy at A&M and a buddy at LSU playing baseball. They were doing really good and all I could think was that should be me,” he explained.

Thoughts of taking the mound began to re-surface and as a result, Rich began a workout regimen at the Accelerated Performance Enhancement Center (APEC) in Tyler.

“When summer rolled around, I started throwing again at home in Lovelady. One of my buddies who played at San Jacinto before he was at LSU saw a video I had posted and he said my arm looked good. He asked me if I wanted him to send it out to some coaches and I told him heck yeah,” he said.

Once the video was posted, eligibility concerns began to crop up. Rich said he thought his JuCo eligibility was over, so he started looking at D-I schools and was talking with Sam Houston about walking on.

“I got a call from Coach Weaver at San Jacinto and he said I still had some eligibility left. Since I had never played, I was still considered as a freshman. Even though I was in my fourth year of college, I was still considered a freshman on the field. Once I found out I could go to junior college I decided to go that route because I needed to get some innings under my belt,” he said.

After a summer of pitching in the Texas Collegiate League and season at San Jacinto, Rich got the call from Lamar, where he finds himself now.

“It’s been full circle and there have been a lot of emotions,” he said.

One person who has helped him along the way is his mother, Kristi, who has been battling cancer and beating it back at every turn.

“She definitely makes it easier on me. I can’t begin to sit here and complain about baseball when I know what she is going through. It definitely puts life in perspective. There is a lot more to it than just baseball. During that third year out of college when I wasn’t playing baseball – she would tell me I had great family and friends, I was a great guy and there was a life outside of baseball,” he said.

His voice cracked a little as he added, “She has had to put up with that cancer every single day. It definitely gives you a better perspective of things. At the end of the day, she has made it a lot easier for me, no matter what happens.

 Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.