Wichita State reliever Grant Muncrief so diligently rehabbed his right elbow he expects to beat the usual return time by two months.
He did it for himself. He also did it because he felt a sense of duty.
"This program has invested so much in me, giving me the opportunity to play here, I felt like I owed it to the Shockers and everybody else to really take it serious," he said. "I was pretty determined I was going to come back from it."
That might sound self-glossing coming from some athletes. Not from Muncrief.
Never miss a local story.
"He's very sincere when he says that," WSU pitching coach Brent Kemnitz said. "You wish you could bottle that up and make him the norm for every guy."
Muncrief, a sophomore from Farmington, N.M., underwent ligament replacement surgery (popularly known as Tommy John) on April 21. The elbow injury ruined a season off to a fine start — he went 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in six appearances. He emerged as WSU's most reliable reliever before the injury. Recovery time is expected to be a year to 18 months. It appeared he would miss most of the 2009 season and 2010.
"I was not very optimistic," Kemnitz said.
Muncrief didn't like that timetable. He stayed in Wichita all summer — not one trip home — to take classes and rehab. He reported to the trainers every day for two hours of rehab and follow that with conditioning or lifting and throwing.
"He never misses anything," catcher Cody Lassley said. "It's no surprise to anybody that he's back so quickly."
By the start of fall practice, Muncrief felt he was making enough progress to think about returning this season. Now he believes that is realistic. He is throwing at full power and loves the way his arm works.
"It feels like I got a new elbow," he said. "My delivery came back the same. I can feel the ball better, though. I feel like my arm feels more smooth and my shoulder feels a lot stronger."
Lassley notices it when Muncrief throws his changeup.
"He can place it better," Lassley said. "He knows where it's going. It's probably from all the repetitions he's had throwing in this rehab. I think his accuracy is going to be better with every single pitch."
While things look promising, Muncrief's return is not complete. He wouldn't be the first athlete to encounter ups and downs after an injury. Kemnitz likes what he sees in bullpen sessions. He won't know how much to count on him until after watching him in scrimmages. The true test comes when he faces batters.
Muncrief isn't thinking about an adjustment period. He is thinking about a place on Kemnitz's list when the season starts on Feb. 23 at Kansas.
"I need to be ready to go," Muncrief said. "I feel like the arm is there. I just need to get my mental preparation done and I'll be ready for the season."
Patriot games — WSU baseball coach Gene Stephenson is prepared with a list of reasons why he wants Dallas Baptist, an independent, to join the Valley as a baseball-only member.
The Patriots win. They play in talent-rich Texas. Dallas is a good destination, especially for WSU. The RPI benefit to the Valley could be significant.
"The upsides are many," he said.
The Shockers don't recruit many players from Texas. Getting the connection in Dallas might open a door or two.
"Any time you play in another media situation, it helps," he said. "It would be a good thing to play there."
The MVC is in the preliminary stage of looking at Dallas Baptist, which is NCAA Division II in other sports. The Patriots earned an at-large bid to an NCAA regional in 2008 and went 38-17 in 2009. They will play at WSU in a weekend series in May.
Sign in the yard — WSU is taking a hammer and nails to raise money for the athletic scholarships.
It is teaming with Klausmeyer Construction to build Shocker House in the Silverton Addition in west Wichita. WSU is trying to get most or all of the materials and labor donated. Star Lumber, B&B Lumber and Ruud Concrete are contributing. The house should list for around $142,000, and the profits will benefit the Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization.
It should be completed in April.
"We'd like to do it annually," associate athletic director Brian Pracht said.
Director of athletics development Matt Baty said he saw the idea at a convention. BYU, he said, has used the program and sold around 12 homes.
There no plans to paint the house black and yellow. WSU is willing to work with the buyer.
"We can add some Shocker touches," Pracht said.
Hits on TV — Kansas 22 will televise six baseball games.
The TV package starts with a game at Oklahoma State (6:30 p.m.) on April 6 and continues with games at Nebraska (6:35 p.m., April 13), Kansas State (7 p.m., April 20), Kansas (7 p.m., April 27) and games at Creighton (noon on May 7 and 8).