Big 12 Campus Correspondent
No outs in the bottom of the third inning, one run in and men on first and third. Cameron Selik desperately needs to make a pitch.
The senior starting pitcher coaxes Iowa’s three-hole hitter into an infield pop fly to record the second out. Trailing 2-0 to the cleanup batter, Selik makes his pitch, forcing the designated hitter into a ground ball to the right side and an inning-ending double play.
On his way off the mound, Selik unleashes an emphatic fist pump and voices his satisfaction about escaping with minimal damage from a potentially crippling inning.
“Hopefully, it will happen a lot this year,” Selik said of his sudden display of emotion. “Getting some fist pumps and big outs in key situations.”
Following the game, the coaches rave about how far he has come in the last year-and-a-half. He is commanding all four pitches, working out of trouble and giving Kansas an opportunity to win when he gets the ball.
“He is comfortable with his role,” pitching coach Ryan Graves said, “plus he is a big competitor and a fiery guy anyway so you’ll see a lot of emotion out of him by the end of the year. He loves to pitch and loves to compete.”
It’s a far cry from where Selik found himself three years ago.
Rewind to March 2007. Selik is a freshman pitcher at Grossmont Community College in San Diego, Calif. The hometown boy is a bulldog of a starter on the weekends, closer during the week. He’s an early commit too, bound to play for UNLV.
He is also putting enormous strain on his throwing arm. On the second pitch of his scheduled start, Selik feels something give in his right elbow. He climbs back on the rubber and attempts to shake it off.
“I two-hopped the plate on the next pitch,” Selik said. “As soon as I released it, I kind of went down to the ground grimacing in pain. I just looked into the dugout and saw my coach’s head drop straight to the floor.”
Hours later Selik found himself in a doctor’s office, waiting for the diagnosis that would change the rest of his baseball career. On June 14, 2007, Selik had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, resigning himself to 12 to 16 long months of rehabilitation and two years of uncertainty.
UNLV said the right things at first, but eventually backed out if its scholarship offer. So Selik spent a year rehabbing and serving as a de facto pitching coach at Grossmont. As it turned out, Kansas needed arms. Selik needed a place to play, and a place to prove himself.
“It was a chance to play in the Big 12 Conference for a big-time team,” he said. “I jumped at it.”
But even Selik admits he wasn’t truly ready for the uphill climb he would face when he arrived in Lawrence. The cold climate exacerbated the soreness in his elbow, and he was out of shape and mentally unprepared to pitch at the Division 1 level.
“One of the hardest parts of it was just the mentality of getting back on the mound,” Selik said. “Throwing long toss isn’t that bad. But that first time you step on the mound and think ‘Alright, is it going to happen again?’ That’s what I think a lot of guys go through in the early stages.”
Still struggling with the injury and adjusting to major college baseball, Selik started the season slowly. Predictably, he struggled early on with command and the uncertainty that surrounded his surgically rebuilt elbow. The cold didn’t help either. After experiencing some swelling, soreness and a loss in range of motion, the training staff shut Selik down for almost two weeks.
But when the MRI came back, the results showed no signs of problems. Routine soreness and fatigue were the culprits, nothing strange or out of the ordinary. For the first time, Selik said he felt like he could stop worrying and just pitch.
By the time Kansas reached the NCAA Tournament Selik was rounding into form. With the Jayhawks facing elimination and scheduled starter Lee Ridenhour facing arm problems of his own, Selik took the bump against Coastal Carolina, the same team that had blown out Kansas only days before.
He put up his best start of the season, allowing one run over six and two-thirds innings and keeping an aggressive Carolina lineup on its toes. Selik began feeling like the elbow was close to where it was prior to the injury.
“I wouldn’t say I was scared,” Selik said of his first season back on the mound. “I wasn’t thinking about it every pitch, but you know it’s there in the back of your mind. ‘Can I throw this pitch without it hurting?’ Once you get past that, everything kind of opens up again and you feel free when you’re on the mound. That’s finally where I’m at right now.”
Junior T.J. Walz will be the Kansas’ top starting pitcher, but Selik has been penciled in for game two on Saturdays, the swing game of rugged three-game weekends in the Big 12. So far, so good for the senior righty. Three starts, three quality outings and, most importantly, three victories to one up his total last year.
Following last weekend’s victory over Iowa, head coach Ritch Price singled out his starter as a one of the players who will help determine whether or not Kansas accomplishes its goals this season.
"If he can continue to pitch like that for seven innings every time we give him the ball then we have a really good chance to win series,” Price said, “and that's what it's all about.”
That’s fine by Selik. Nearly three years after the injury, he’s free to do what he does best.
“I’m not worrying about anything,” Selik said, “but pitching to the batter and getting him out.”