When you’re young you have no idea the difference a year can make in your life. For Buckeye freshmen Nick Erwin and Zach Dezenzo it’s become manifest, and magnified, this weekend in Nashville.
Nashville – Dreams do come true, and the really good ones….well, you can’t make this stuff up!
That’s how it is for a lot of the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend – those freshmen that a year ago were struggling, or at least worrying, with graduation details and which party to attend…because God forbid, you don’t go to the wrong graduation party. It’s just not done!
But now, this weekend here in Nashville, they have a much better party to attend, and frankly be the hit of the party as the #4-seed Buckeyes match up with #1-seed (and #2 overall, nationally) tomorrow night – the Vanderbilt Commodores.
N0 one feels it more poignantly than shortstop Zach Dezenzo (Marlington High School, Alliance) and third baseman Nick Erwin (Grove City). Installed at their respective positions after the first month of the season, their impact has been a critical factor in the Buckeyes’ now 35-25 record and their second Big Ten Tournament title in four years.
Dezenzo, in 55 games, has hit .255 with 9 home runs and 34 RBIs, responding from a position change to shortstop 18 games into the season when starter Noah West went down with an ACL injury.
And Erwin, while not hitting as high (.234 with 9 RBIs in 34 starts), has played a sparkling third base, committing just four errors in 67 chances, a .957% fielding percentage. Both admit that this weekend’s NCAA regional appearance is a far cry from where they envisioned themselves just a year ago.
“I had no idea, you can’t have,” said Erwin at Thursday’s workout at Vanderbilt’s Hawkins Stadium. “At this time last year my high school team at Grove City was still in the tournament, and after we lost in the tournament it was graduation and summer ball. I had no idea what I’d get into with college. Now, being in a regional tournament in your first year is just unbelievable.
“It’s like a dream come true. It just doesn’t happen like this. For us to win the Big Ten tournament, to make the kind of run we made to win it…and to get here this weekend is something truly special. This is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Thrust into service as a result of Noah West’s injury and Zach Dezenzo’s shift from third to shortstop, Erwin’s play at the outset was one of necessity. But as the month of April, then May, wore on, he played as well defensively as any third baseman in the Big Ten.
“I know I struggled last weekend with the bat,” he shrugged. “But I made some adjustments later in the tournament and started to swing better. I got a couple of knocks, but really…I was just worried about playing my position. I knew in that big ballpark our pitchers were going to throw strikes, so my job was to field behind them and make some plays. A lot of us played with that mindset.”
Zach Dezenzo did, playing arguably the toughest position on the field (behind catcher) while he suffered last weekend with his own struggles at the plate. He describes the past year as a matter of life changes…changes that really pop into focus with the regional tourney this weekend in Nashville.
“Big life changes,” says Dezenzo. “To say the least this has been a blast. A lot of growth and a lot of ups and downs. But you can’t be happier than to be here and playing against a team like Vanderbilt.”
For at least this weekend, he’s the pride of the Marlington Dukes, because it’s safe to say that no one from Stark County has more on the line as a college freshman this weekend, than Dezenzo.
“I’m not sure what they’re thinking,” he admitted Thursday. “I know a lot of my friends are very proud of me. They’ve given me constant support – people back home reaching out and congratulating me. It’s awesome to have that from home.”
You think it isn’t fun to be young, to play college baseball, and to be in an NCAA tournament when you can barely shave? Erwin, whose curious choice for a walk-up tune at Bill Davis Stadium is the old Queen song, Fat Bottom Girls, is simply living in the moment. Grove City, and the past, is the farthest thing from his mind this weekend. On his “thrill meter” this is off the charts.
“Oh yeah, this is as high as it can get,” he smiles. “Last week was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of, and 17,000 people will be the biggest until we can get back there and play in Nebraska again (if they make the College World Series). This weekend is gonna’ be fun, but it would really be special to get back there and do it again.”
And for Dezenzo’s thrill meter….?
“This is absolutely a 10,” he laughs. “And even more, if that’s possible. You really can’t beat the chance to play post-season baseball against a team like Vanderbilt in a place like this.”
There’s more, of course. Garrett Burhenn, Seth Lonsway, Will Pfennig head the list of newbies playing on the biggest stage of their lives, just a year removed from high school and those windbag commencement speakers promising bigger and better things to come.
They had no idea!