Wichita State outfielder Daniel Kihle hurt his wrist on March 9 and thought the worst.
Soon, the name “Warren Morris” came up and things didn’t seem so bad.
“I thought he was out for the year,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “Then I looked back at 1996, LSU plays in the national championship and there’s a guy named Warren Morris. I started telling Daniel about Warren Morris.”
Morris and Kihle both broke the hamate bone in their wrist during the season. In 1996, Morris played 29 days after surgery, the start of NCAA regionals, and hit a two-run home run to beat Miami 9-8 in the College World Series championship game. Kihle’s return, after surgery on March 13, took until April 5.
“We all thought I was done for the year,” Kihle said. “The doctor that ended up doing surgery said I could be back in three weeks. So we started to think maybe I could play this year.”
Kihle, a sophomore from Andale High, pinch hit against Indiana State and started the second game of the doubleheader. He hasn’t been able to play every game because the left wrist get sore quickly. When healthy, he gives WSU’s offense a needed jolt. He is 8 for 19 with three doubles since returning after going 4 for 4 in Tuesday’s 6-4 win over Oral Roberts.
WSU (18-18, 3-6 Missouri Valley Conference) will try to escape the bottom of the MVC with its series against Southern Illinois (20-17, 3-6) at Eck Stadium.
He is quite a different player from the one Butler watched at the start of fall practices. Back then, Butler had to push him to use his speed, telling him he was too fast not to steal bases. Butler watched him start to steal, then hold up, and told him to be bold on the basepaths.
“He was timid, a little bit passive,” Butler said. “He finally started running toward the end and he just carried it right over to the spring.”
Kihle’s return started the day after surgery, when assistant coach Brian Walker handed him a 27-inch wood bat and told him to keep swinging with his right hand. The routine kept his legs in sync and improved his top hand, keeping it tucked in while swinging, instead of sitting idle.
“I think it helped,” Kihle said. “Everything with my legs was normal, going through the same motion. With the one-handed (swinging) I was able to stay pretty close to game-ready.”
To protect the wrist, he rarely hits during practices. After starting last Friday’s game at Evansville, he sat out the next two when the wrist bothered him. Baseball players frequently fracture the hamate bone, near the surface of the palm, while swinging. It is not normally an injury with long-term implications, although it may take six weeks or so for a hitter to regain his power.
Kihle will be in the lineup on Friday and wants to play all three games.
“It feels pretty much 100 percent,” he said.
When Butler plays Kihle, he puts him in the leadoff spot in recent games and likes the results. He calls Kihle the team’s best athlete and a hitter who can start the game with an extra-base hit and use his speed to fluster the defense.
“He’s turning into a leader,” Butler said. “He has that tenacity of a winner. He has great emotion, that’s controlled, but very competitive.”
New arms for WSU — WSU received signed letters of intent from junior-college pitchers Storm Rynard of Cowley College and Chase Williams of Eastern Oklahoma State College. The Shockers also received an oral commitment from Grayson (Texas) College two-way player Willie Schwanke, who said he plans to sign his letter soon.
Schwanke (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) spent his freshman season at Arkansas with Butler and Walker. He left Arkansas when they left and wanted to rejoin them at WSU. He said he also considered Texas and Dallas Baptist.
At Arkansas, Schwanke started 22 games and hit .214. He plays third base, batting left-handed, and pitches with his right hand. He did not pitch at Arkansas. Butler’s way of pushing his players and talking straight with them made a good impression on Schwanke.
“(Butler) really takes care of his players better than any coach I've even seen,” Schwanke said. “Walker is always there when you need guiding, on and off the field. I think I made the right decision and I think it will play out that way.”
At Grayson, Schwanke is hitting .305 with four home runs, 21 walks and 32 RBIs. He is 2-5 in nine appearances with a 3.76 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings. He played at Frisco (Texas) Wakeland High and was named Hitter of the Year by The Dallas Morning News after hitting .420 with a .588 on-base percentage as a senior.
Rynard, a freshman from Raymore, Mo., is 3-2 with a 7.03 ERA and 36 strikeouts and 12 walks in 32 innings. Williams, a redshirt freshman from Broken Arrow, Okla., has a 5.52 ERA in 14 2/3 innings with 18 strikeouts and 23 walks.