Committing to football freed Travis Young’s mind and led to his commitment to baseball.
He remains a football guy in many ways — it’s the definition his teammates use when asked to describe Young’s season at Wichita State. Football, in their minds, provides the drive for Young to work out on the Iron Mike pitching machine and refuse to cruise through a session.
“He doesn’t take days off,” first baseman Greyson Jenista said. “He doesn’t show up and say, ‘Aw, I’m not feeling it today.’ Football’s always been a big part of his background, we all know that, and I think that kind of serves into his work ethic.”
Young, a redshirt freshman from Derby, is emerging as a fixture in center field and the leadoff spot as WSU (21-35) starts Missouri Valley Conference Tournament play on Wednesday in Terre Haute, Ind. He’s started nine of WSU’s past 11 games, the past six in center and leading off. If his progress continues, he figures to fill those roles next season.
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“He has that Derby football makeup that, it has to be in you,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “I’m sure on the football field he would be fun to watch, because I’m sure he really likes to hit and tackle. With his speed, I’m sure it’s a loud noise when he made tackles.”
Young, who started 28 games and played in 47, is hitting .327 for the season and .361 in 17 MVC games, 11 as a starter. In the past 11 games, he is 16 of 34 (.470).
“He’s fun to watch, because he can change the game with his speed,” Butler said. “He’s really taken off.”
Young, an All-Class 6A football selection in 2013 as a defensive back at Derby, decided to play football at Butler Community College after his senior season. He considered North Dakota State, which has won five consecutive NCAA Football Championship Subdivision titles. He played baseball that spring, earning All-Metro honors, and during the summer.
With the pressure of choosing a school relieved, he enjoyed baseball and played well.
“I wasn’t worried about doing something for baseball; I was just having fun,” he said. “It worked out pretty well. I’m happy.”
When he factored in injuries, baseball grew more attractive and he walked on at WSU.
“They made a sacrifice to come here,” Butler said. “He was humble in the fact that he said, ‘I’m going to come here and work my tail off and I want to be a good baseball player.’ He’s going to be taken care of in the future; he will have gained a scholarship.”
Young spent his redshirt season learning the nuances of the sport after dividing his time in high school. He observed assistant coach Brian Walker and learned. He lived with senior outfielder Mikel Mucha and soaked up his experience. This season, he moved in and out of the lineup, sometimes serving as a late-inning defender. In early May, his playing time grew more consistent.
“He’s a player you can really challenge and that’s what I really love about him,” Butler said. “You can tell him the flat-out truth and he will respond. Baserunning, setting up a pitcher — he’ll do it. He’s confident enough to go into the game and put that adjustment in.”
Young, like in his football days, is a willing vocal leader. He is alert for a lack of hustle and isn’t afraid to correct what he sees as problems in practice or games.
“If somebody screws up, doesn’t get their job, he’ll point it out, and that’s good for our team,” second baseman Luke Ritter said. “There’s a lot of guys on our team that are starting to do that, and that’s good.”
Young credits Mucha and Tanner Kirk with impressing upon him the importance of teammates pushing each other.
“I talked to Kirk and Mucha about their earlier years here … and they said the whole team was like that,” Young said. “You had to play well yourself or else you knew you were going to get a little bit from the other guys. Once I do that to guys, and they start performing, then they’re getting on me, it’s going to make everyone accountable. I like the way it’s going.”
Butler sees Young’s recent rise as as matter of a talented player getting a chance. Young credits a small adjustment in his batting stance with fueling his hot streak. Walker watched video from last fall and early in the spring and noticed Young had changed his footwork at the plate, opening up his front foot and robbing some of the power from his swing.
“I closed my stance off and as soon as I did that, it clicked that that’s what I needed to do,” Young said. “I closed my front foot and everything started getting back to where it was. Now it’s just, ‘See ball, hit ball.’ ”
At Terre Haute, Ind.
- No. 5 Evansville (27-25) vs. No. 4 Southern Illinois (30-23), 8 a.m.
- No. 8 Illinois St. (17-35) vs. No. 1 Dallas Baptist (37-17), 11:30
- No. 6 Wichita St. (21-35) vs. No. 3 Bradley (27-19), 3 p.m.
- No. 7 Missouri St. (34-19) at No. 2 Indiana St. (34-19), 6:30
- UE-SIU loser vs. Ill. St.-DBU loser, 8 a.m.
- MSU-Ind. St. loser vs. WSU-BU loser, 11:30
- UE-SIU winner vs. Ill. St.-DBU winner, 3 p.m.
- MSU-Ind. St. winner vs. WSU-BU winner, 6:30
- All games on ESPN3.com
Wichita State vs. Bradley
When: 3 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Warn Field, Terre Haute, Ind.
Records: WSU 21-35, BU 27-19
Pitchers: WSU, RH Zach Lewis (2-8, 5.87 ERA); BU, RH Matt Dennis (8-3, 4.02)
Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM