MANHATTAN — Nothing makes a college baseball player think more than the option of turning pro as a junior or returning to school as a senior.
Ross Kivett can attest to that.
When the Kansas State star hitter was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round of last year’s major-league draft, his mind was consumed. He sought advice everywhere and got as far away from baseball as he could, turning to golf as a substitution — anything to clear his head before making the biggest decision of his life.
Ultimately, he chose to return to K-State in a move that led to unprecedented preseason expectations. Ten months later, as the odds of reaching those expectations grow slim, he is often asked about his decision. Does he regret it?
“It would be easy to, huh?” Kivett said. “But I don’t. I was at peace with it. That is one thing my parents really stressed to me. Whatever my decision was, I had to be at peace with it, because life moves on and no one is ever going to feel sorry for you.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself and no one else should feel sorry for me. I am having a great time right now. Everything will end up working out. The game always pays you back.”
That attitude will help Kivett and the entire Wildcat baseball program as they head into the final month of the season.
Kivett returned to K-State, in part, hoping to lead the Wildcats to their first College World Series. But at 23-19, and 4-8 in the Big 12, they are fighting merely to stay within reach of the NCAA Tournament. With a RPI in the high 70s, they would miss the field if it was announced today.
It has been a disappointing season, especially compared to last year when they won the Big 12, hosted a regional and lost a total of 19 games. Now, K-State may not make its conference tournament. Only the top eight teams play in the Big 12 Tournament, and the Wildcats are ninth.
Omaha feels light years away. Yet, Kivett hasn’t lost hope.
“It’s never too late to get something great going,” Kivett said. “I think there are going to be opportunities – thank God – that give us the chance to play on. We have to take advantage of them.”
Indeed, there is hope for a turnaround. K-State can still play its way back into the postseason conversation, and a remarkable finish could score a tournament berth.
Though the Wildcats are currently at the bottom of the Big 12 standings, they are one game behind fifth-place Oklahoma in the win column.
No one will forget the preseason expectations, but a strong finish will make some forget they were once in the cellar.
“I have never really made anyone around here feel like this is Omaha or bust, because of me,” Kivett said. “I haven’t ever felt like this was a disappointment. As long as there are games on the schedule, I’m not going to feel like that. Are we in the spot where we want to be? No, but if you go 11-2 over your next 13, everyone will say, ‘This is a team that’s for real.’ I’m not going to count us out.”
K-State has the potential to go on a long winning streak, but it has battled significant problems. Injuries and ineffective pitching plagued the Wildcats during a 1-7 start. Then it settled down and won 12 in a row. Sustaining that success has been the problem.
For every big win, a stinging loss seems to follow. Take the last week for example: After winning a three-game series against Baylor they dropped a home game to UC Bakersfield. Then they bounced back with a 13-0 victory.
Kivett, though, is having a quality individual season. He is hitting .340 with three home runs and 28 RBIs. He has also twice been named Big 12 player of the week while playing center field and second base. Those numbers stack up nicely to his breakout junior season, in which he hit .360 with three home runs and 38 RBIs on his way to being named Big 12 Player of the Year.
When he decided to return for his senior year, he did so knowing his draft stock could radically change.
So he set simple goals the same way he does at the plate. Living by the motto that, “Once you know your limits, you are limitless,” he always tries to stay within himself on the baseball field.
He knows he is best at getting on base with singles and doubles, so he swings the bat accordingly. Perhaps K-State has tried to do too much this season, and could benefit from the same approach.
“Coming back, my goals were to be a leader to these guys on and off the field,” Kivett said, “I wanted to do more community service and get good grades ... I think I have done a pretty good job of that. I didn’t put pressure on myself to get these guys to Omaha or to improve my draft stock. I need to play as hard as I can every day and those guys need to play as hard as they can every day. After that, whatever happens, happens. We are all at peace with that.”