Ohio State freshman Connor Pohl is living a dream while biding his time to play a more substantive role in Division I college baseball. For now, he couldn’t be happier.
Surprise, AZ – If there’s one story on this 2017 Ohio State baseball team that rings more true to me than others…it’s that of freshman infielder Connor Pohl.
Pohl, you see, has defied the odds of nearly every Division IV high school baseball player in Ohio by having a dream of playing at the highest level of his ability, pursuing that dream, and having it come true.
In fact, it’s an all-too-familiar story with me, because 45 years ago I, too, was in Connor Pohl’s shoes. Wanting to play college baseball, I had the temerity to walk on at Ohio State University and ask to be considered for my talents. It turned out to be one of the best risks I ever took.
A freshman out of Arcanum High School, nearby to my home in Covington, Ohio, I’ve known about Pohl for a couple of years. Playing against schools in the Cross County Conference, a rural league with stops in places like Lewisburg, Ansonia, Covington, and Pitsburg, he literally towered (he’s 6’4″ inches tall) over the competition too often taken for granted with high school baseball below the levels of Divisions I and II.
But he was also talented, playing third base, first base, the outfield if needed, and more often than not, he was his team’s best pitcher. He routinely got it up to home plate in the 83 to 85 miles per hour range.
“He was not only our best player, but he was our hardest-working player, even with his talent,” said high school coach Randy Baker, during Pohl’s senior season at Arcanum. “He never took anything for granted and worked at his game every day. He wanted to play college baseball at the highest level possible.”
He’s doing that this weekend outside Phoenix, Arizona, where the Ohio State Buckeyes are competing with Oregon State and Utah in the PAC 12 – Big Ten baseball challenge. A reserve infielder, he saw limited time in the Buckeyes’ Friday contest with Utah, drawing a walk and lining out hard to right field for the game’s final out. Disappointed that his team lost, he was nonetheless thrilled to finally see his dream play out.
He came to Ohio State last fall as a preferred walk-on, invited if you will, to be a part of the program, to prove that he belonged, and prove that he can contribute. He’s done that just to be here this weekend, and that fact alone brings a broad smile to his face.
“Connor has a great physical makeup. He has the tools to come here and be successful,” said OSU coach Greg Beals during fall practice. “He just needs some time.”
Time to catch up to the speed of baseball at the next level, and time to get stronger. A left-handed swinger, in time he’s going to hit with the power potential he showed at Arcanum.
And then…time to learn. There’s always more to learn.
“Being a Buckeye is a dream come true,” said Pohl when he made his decision a year ago to Columbus and take his chances to play at this level. Thursday night, when he made his first pinch-hitting appearance as a Buckeye, nothing had changed.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, just getting in the game and getting my first at bat,” he said prior to Saturday night’s rematch with Utah. “It felt great. I’ve been dreaming about this for so long. I looked up at the scoreboard, I saw my name and my picture, and it helped me realize where I was and what I was doing. It helped me to calm down a little bit.”
Baseball at this level is a matter of buying in, doing the work, and trusting the process. The fact of being a walk-on is no deterrent to Pohl. If anything, he sees it working to his advantage.
“I actually think being a walk-on has fueled me to work harder,” he admits. “It would be great to earn that scholarship someday. I look at it that I have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by working hard and being patient. That’s what the coaches have told me over and over – work hard, get stronger, and be ready when my opportunity comes. I know I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe in me.”
He’s pursuing a major in psychology, but Pohl already knows something about the human psyche and the benefits of being happy and a part of the day to day process, whatever it is.
“It was kinda’ surreal to get on the plane last week and make my first trip as a Buckeye,” he admits. “Suddenly I realized that I’m on this team and we’re traveling together. Sitting back there with the rest of the guys and talking about things was really great. I know we’ve got a chance to be a very good baseball team and yesterday we beat the #5 team in the country (Oregon State). We’ve got a lot of new guys, so that just shows what we’re capable of doing this year.”
And best, if you’re Connor Pohl, from Arcanum, Ohio, he’s going to be a part of it – now and in the future. You cannot have more fun than he’s having.
I remember…all too well.