by Alan Hieber
Wright State pitcher Ryan Weiss' dream to play college baseball nearly didn't happen. He is now one of the top pitchers on the Raider staff.
Pitching for the Raiders wasn't on Weiss' mind when he committed to Elgin Community College in his hometown of South Elgin, Illinois. Then, only three days later, WSU coach Jeff Mercer scouted him at a travel baseball game in Indiana.
Impressed by what he saw from Weiss, Mercer called him and asked if he would like to visit WSU.
After Weiss set foot on campus, he knew it was somewhere he would like to go. Then a scholarship offer was made, which finalized his decision.
A back injury last season put Weiss' baseball career in jeopardy after he sustained a fracture to his L4-L5 vertebrae and a herniated disk. Initially he had to wear a back brace and was fearful it could be serious. Then a specialist told him that he could, fortunately, recover from the injury.
Weiss went back home to Elgin for a demanding rehab process. On top of that, he was lifting and throwing again, which meant adapting his pitching motion.
“I redefined myself as a baseball player because I had to throw a different way,” Weiss said. “It's allowed me to throw better and more consistent.”
The experience has also allowed Weiss to put things in perspective by cherishing his opportunity to pitch still.
“I try to do it for the people that can't. After my back injury, I felt like baseball could be taken away from me,” Weiss said. “If there is a person in the stands or anyone out there that can't play, I want to do it for them because I want to give them happiness.”
The resilience shown by Weiss despite his injury speaks to the attitude he has when he is pitching in a game, according to Mercer.
“Ryan's confidence in his ability to be successful at this level never wavered, even when he was injured,” Mercer said. “That internal confidence allows him to be resilient in situations that others would struggle with.”
Last fall, Weiss faced a slight setback with an arm injury. With the help of WSU assistant coach Alex Sogard, he was equipped with a slider this winter. This, combined with increased speed on his fastball, had him primed for a successful season.
After several appearances during the non-conference schedule, Weiss has taken the Horizon League by storm as a starter. He has a 2.02 ERA along with a 6-1 record, which includes four league games.
“I knew he (Weiss) had the physical abilities to be a productive player for us when I recruited him, but I don't think anyone could've predicted he would be this good this early in his career,” Mercer said. “It's been a pleasure to see him work this year, and I look forward to many more quality outings from him.”
In his debut game against #10 Clemson, Weiss showed that he had the poise of a veteran player by earning the save with 2.1 innings of no-hit work. For Mercer, this first glimpse of his ace in action was significant.
“He (Weiss) acted like he was a senior who had been in that situation a dozen times,” Mercer said. “It was an impressive start, and I knew we had a special player in that moment.”
In his last two victories that came against Northern Kentucky, Weiss left batters guessing by twice going seven innings and not allowing a run. He says this has given him a rise in confidence that will be needed going into the HL tournament.
Though Weiss wasn't pitching when WSU clinched the HL tournament championship last season, he felt like he had pitched a complete game.
“There is no better feeling just to be able to get a ring and go on to the regional,” Weiss said. “Whether I'm pitching or not it's unreal.”
Off the mound Weiss has brought his strong work ethic into the classroom. As a sports science major, he made the Horizon League Academic Honor Roll last fall with a cumulative GPA of 3.46.
The Raiders will start their run at a three-peat in the HL tournament next week. Last year, a dear head was used as an unexpected rallying cry for the team. This season, the welcome surprise has been Weiss' pitching, which could help propel WSU to yet another title.