By Austin Staton
Big12 Campus Correspondent
Success is a goal that all student-athletes strive for. Perfection is something that very few attain. For Baylor junior Kendal Volz, perfection was the theme for the 2008 summer.
The right-handed pitcher from Bulverde, Texas, turned in his green and gold for the red, white and blue as he became only the fourth Baylor pitcher to play for the USA Baseball National Team. Volz followed in the footsteps of Pat Combs (1988), Jason Jennings (1997, 1998) and Zane Carlson (2000).
With a perfect 24-0 record, Team USA claimed gold medals at the Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands and the FISU World University Championships in the Czech Republic.
“That was a blast. We knew we were playing some great baseball players but it just kind of shows you a little bit about the game of baseball internationally,” Volz said. “Being the guy that they wanted to close out the game was just awesome. It was a great experience and it helped me get better this summer and I think it will help me this season.”
Adjusting to a new role as a closer, Volz played a pivotal for the national team converting eight saves in as many chances. In 13 appearances, Volz allowed only one unearned run over 14 innings of work with 16 strikeouts.
“It was definitely different," Volz said of the transition from starter to closer. "It took a little bit for my arm to get use to. I was use to warming up in the bullpen for maybe 20-30 pitches prior to a start and I would long toss before.
“Once I got use to it I would just get up, throw a couple of throws and I would be ready to go the next day. I think it was a blast because going to the ballpark everyday I thought I was going to pitch.
“Being that guy that they wanted out there in close situations was really awesome. This summer was really just a blessing and I thank God for that opportunity.”
Simply looking at the success of the National Team on paper leaves no doubt that Volz was a part of perhaps one of the most successful pitching staff’s in history of the program. Joining Volz on the roster were fellow Big 12 pitchers Tyler Lyons and Andrew Oliver of Oklahoma State, as well as Kyle Gibson of Missouri.
The four pitchers were instrumental in leading the USA pitching staff to a program-record 0.88 ERA, blowing past the previous record of 1.29 recorded in 2003.
Despite being the leaders of their respective pitching staffs on the collegiate playing field, Gibson and Volz were able to put their rivalry behind them as they were roommates throughout the summer.
“It was pretty cool getting to know a guy that I competed against and getting to know him and his family a little bit more,” Missouri's Gibson said. “Kendal is a great guy and he is a great Christian guy that lets his faith lead him in what he does; it just makes him a great competitor. He goes out there and gives it his all.”
Conceivably the most impressive note from the summer was the Nationals' dominance of the Cuban Olympic team, a standard that the USA Olympic squad was unable to match. Team USA knocked off Cuba on two occasions during the Haarlem baseball week, including a 4-1 in which Volz closed out the game to lead the U.S. to the gold.
“I think the experience of wearing the red, white and blue for one thing is such a unique experience,” Baylor coach Steve Smith said. “I think the role that he was in and having to pitch under pressure and under the gun every game, having to get out of messes, inheriting problems and having to get out of them in order to get the save and preserve the win, which is not going to do anything but help everybody.”
Even though success throughout Europe were a once in a lifetime experience for Volz, the quest for perfection continues as the No. 6 Bears have aspirations of winning a Big 12 title, as well as reaching college baseball glory in Omaha, Neb.
“Every chance that I have to help our team, I want to do it and put our team in a position to win," Volz said. "I think our team is talented enough that dogpiling in Omaha is a realistic goal but we still have a long way to go and a lot of things to work on.
“If we do the little things, which is what really separates teams in college baseball, and if we can get on a roll hopefully we can get a chance to go to Omaha and do some great things there.”
From Preseason All-America to Golden Spikes Watch list, the list of honors for the junior co-captain is extensive. With a roster full of young but solid arms, Volz is in a leadership role.
“Whether he ever says a word or not, he is going to be watched, especially by the younger guys on the team. Kendal falls under the category of a guy who is a leader whether he likes it or not,” Smith said. “He is the consummate lead by example guy.
"It is good to be a man of few words but you can’t be a man of no words. I think that is what Kendal has realized. He doesn’t say a lot but he leads all of the time. When he does say something everybody is listening.”
With an above-average fastball, slider and changeup, the Major League scouts have taken notice of his ability. Baseball America has rated Volz as the No. 6 MLB Draft Prospect (college) and the No. 3 USA Baseball National Team Prospect.
“He reminds me the most of Jason (Jennings) because of his command,” Smith said. “He throws a lot of strikes. Jason could just pitch and that is the way that Kendal is although he is more of a three pitch guy. They are similar both as pitchers and as people.”
The No. 6 Bears currently hold a 9-2 mark during non-conference play, with key wins over ranked teams UC Irvine, UCLA and TCU. In 19.1 innings of work, Volz sports a microscopic 1.86 ERA with 13 strikeouts.
With conference play just around the corner, the schedule does not get any easier as Volz and Baylor will have to square off against a talented crop of pitchers - three of whom played with Volz during the summer.
“We know that there is going to be some great competition this year,” Volz said. “We still have to focus on what we do rather than who we are going to play, that will help us a lot more.
“Rooming with some of the Big 12 pitchers kind of gives us some bragging rights for this year. They are great kids and I wish them the best. But, whenever they come here or whenever we go there, when it is time to play, there aren’t going to be any thoughts about the summer. We are going to do whatever we can do to win.”