More than a pastime

By J.D. Williams

Three years ago, a group of UK students set out to have their baseball careers continue beyond high school despite not having big offers from Division I schools.

Their love for the American pastime resulted in laying the foundation for the UK baseball club.

Looking back, member and club president Pete Jones considered the growth of the team essential to its current success. The journalism junior, who is one of the three players remaining from the inaugural team, said he is pleased with its growth.

“Initially it wasn’t hard to get people to join the team. It was hard to get decent talent,” Jones said. “Since then, it has grown to where we have a good baseball team.”

The team pressed through the early stages, enduring low talent levels and practices on hardwood floors in Alumni Gym to reach the competitive level they play at now.

The team even has a few Division II- and III-level players, said Mikhail Jenkins, vice president of the club.

“Some guys here passed up on scholarships on the D-II level for academics at a bigger school,” Jenkins said.

Having such talent has led to a good start this season: With a 4-1 record, UK is first in its conference, which includes clubs from Xavier, Northern Kentucky and Wright State.

But Jenkins, a history sophomore, said the best victory this season was over Tennessee’s club baseball team.

“It’s always good to get a win over a rival,” he said.

There are more than 200 club teams nationwide, and the league has its own World Series — but instead of staying in Omaha, Neb., every year like the Division I championship game, the tournament location changes. Last year it was in Florida; this year it’s in Indiana.

To make the playoffs in the club league, a team must have the best record in its conference. From there the team goes to the regional playoffs and then on to the World Series.

To prep for the road to the World Series, team members practice three times a week between classes and work schedules. Their sessions in Alumni Gym were hard to get used to initially, but they’ve learned to cope.

“It’s not at all the same,” said Brandon Hranicky, an engineering sophomore who is one of a few former Kentucky All-State players on the club squad. “You don’t get a chance to throw the ball as far, so it hurts strength in your arm.

“So it makes things harder, but we have to work with what we got.”

But playing in the gym does result in accidents. Jenkins said on a good week the team will knock out one window. On a bad week, three will shatter.

“They’ve forgiven us,” Jenkins said of the UK Club Sports program.

But despite the occasional broken panes, the UK baseball club is bringing good times to those who want a chance to live out their baseball dreams beyond the outfield walls of high school when the big schools don’t come calling.