Wichita State catcher Parker Zimmerman can’t play baseball or watch practice. He rarely reads or watches TV. He comes to games to watch his teammates, but it’s a struggle to make it from first pitch to final out.
On April 5, Zimmerman started both games of a doubleheader at Indiana State. He took two foul balls off his mask and the second one dazed him. He hasn’t played since and his concussion symptoms, while improving from early April, remain significant. For home games, he tried to arrive at game time to minimize his exposure to the noise, light and movement.
“Headache and pressure in my head,” he said. “I tried to come a couple different times … for the midweek games, usually, and I would come and watch (batting practice) and about the time the game would start I would have to leave because of the headaches.”
Zimmerman, a sophomore from Stillwater, Okla., said he suffered one diagnosed concussion in high school while playing football. He suspects others.
“You never really know,” he said.
Zimmerman is home while the Shockers travel to the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Indiana State this week. He won’t play summer baseball, regardless of when the symptoms subside. His plans to work at a Young Life camp in Georgia later this summer are on hold. He started 31 games in two seasons at WSU, hitting .194 in 23 starts as a freshman and .355 in eight starts this season.
“It’s very tough,” said Pat Zimmerman, his father. “It’s pretty severe, the way the symptoms have lingered. Baseball has been a big, big part of his life and it’s been taken away from him for over a month.”
Zimmerman, an exercise science major who made the athletic director’s honor roll as a freshman and sophomore, said his schoolwork didn’t suffer. Classrooms are tolerable because they are controlled environment. He is able to read for short periods.
Most of his time is spent trying to rest his mind in a dark, quiet area.
“I’m bored,” he said. “Lights out. You shut out everything.”
Zimmerman is uncomfortable discussing his playing future. His father isn’t sure if switching positions is an attractive option for his son, who played catcher his entire career.
“I’m every day focusing on getting better,” Parker Zimmerman said. “Whatever decisions need to get made, they’ll get made.”
Pat Zimmerman said those decisions will be up to his son.
“He realizes baseball is a small part of life,” Pat Zimmerman said. “He’s got a lot of future ahead him. We’re proud of him whatever he decides to do.”
The season ended in disappointment with a semifinal loss to eventual champion Bradley in the MVC Tournament. The Shockers, picked eighth by coaches in the preseason, exceeded expectations at every other turn.
First baseman Cacy Williams, a sophomore, is the MVC’s MVP and Newcomer of the Year. Outfielder Brittany Fortner, also a sophomore, joined Williams as an all-region pick. Freshman Paige Luellen hit .354 and led WSU with 48 RBI.
With only three seniors, one of whom played sparingly, the Shockers (34-21, 21-6 MVC) compiled their first winning season since 2008. Coach Kristi Bredbenner knows they will be taken seriously next spring. Williams, a transfer from Emporia State, hit a school-record 16 home runs and her coach expects rival coaches to spend the off-season finding holes in her swing.
“We’ll see how they handle the sophomore-slump year,” she said. “For all of our kids, it’s not necessarily as much physical in the next year, it’s going to be mental and how good they can overcome maybe some more pressure.”
Utility player Erin Carney, an All-MVC pick in 2013, missed the season with a knee injury and will return for her senior season. Bredbenner would like to add a junior-college pitcher this summer to go with five high school seniors signed in November. Senior third baseman Ali Vandever started 53 games and hit .233. Senior pitcher Sloan Anderson went 12-12 with a 3.54 ERA.
“We played so many young kids,” she said. “We’re playing a much tougher schedule next year, so that’s something where they’re going to have to have their hats on right away.”
WSU will play in tournaments at Baylor, Texas, Long Beach State and in Clearwater, Fla., in an upgraded non-conference schedule.
“It’s going to be important for our returners to go home and work hard and not settle for being happy they turned the program around,” Bredbenner said.
“(Infielder Jacob) Gatewood’s slide likely will carry him past the Nats, who are said to be in on college bats,” wrote John Manuel. “They’d probably hate to see (catcher Kyle) Schwarber go one spot ahead of them but will be happy to take Casey Gillaspie, a switch-hitter with power and track record.”
Evansville pitcher Kyle Freeland is projected to go No. 4 to the Cubs.