By Trae Green
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
During the early innings of each University of Kansas baseball game, KU’s closing pitcher - senior right-hander Jordan Piche’ – anxiously bides his time in the Jayhawk bullpen, trying to focus on the opposing hitters and find any possible advantage to exploit when it comes time for him to take the mound.
“I’ve got about six innings to see how the hitters are reacting to different off-speed pitches and fastballs,” Piche’ said. “It takes my mind off of having to go warm up. I try to relax as much as possible, but that’s pretty hard.”
Even with the constant efforts to keep his mind from wandering away from the task at hand, there is one reoccurring early-inning thought that the reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year can’t seem to shake. The feeling of being in the bullpen and taking in the scene and atmosphere of the game he loves causes Piche’s mind to sometimes slightly drift into a period of disbelief while reflecting on his journey to where he is today.
Piche’s recollection begins approximately two years ago, transitioning from a stage of not being sure he was going to get the chance to continue his career after playing in junior college, to jumping ahead to 2013 when he was a member of the All-Big 12 Conference First Team and finally skipping ahead to the current season where, in his second and final go-around, he is one of three team captains at Kansas.
Despite being a four-year letterwinner, being named an all-conference honoree three times, and nabbing an all-state selection after his prep campaign had concluded at Resurrection Christian High School in Greeley, Colo., Piche’ had drawn no collegiate offers to prolong his career following his senior season. At the time, being overlooked by baseball programs wasn’t necessarily a big deal for Piche’.
“I didn’t get recruited for baseball or anything through high school,” Piche’ said. “It was just something I liked to do.”
After mulling over his options, Piche’ decided he wasn’t quite ready to give up baseball just yet and opted to sign-on at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. It didn’t come as a surprise when Piche’ chose to commit to play at Indian Hills; he wanted to embrace the opportunity to have the chance to play alongside his baseball role model and older brother, Jonathan, who is currently serving as an athletic trainer for a minor league hockey team. The Piche’ brothers anticipated spending quality time together while participating in something they both enjoyed doing. What they didn’t quite anticipate was the number of games or experiences the two of them would end up tacking onto Jordan’s career.
“My brother was a big influence for me, he was that good role model and that good player that I looked up to,” Piche’ said. “He went to the junior college I went to as well. That really kept me in it for sure and it made my decision to go through with baseball for college.”
Baseball at the junior college level is a grueling time commitment that takes a certain dedication and drive to be able to succeed. The JUCO ranks proved to be tough on Piche’, but it ultimately turned baseball into one of his true passions while also instilling a work ethic that helped get him to the position he is in today.
“Junior college practice is rough; it’s really long, five-six-seven hours of the day you’re playing. It’s definitely a grind of a season,” Piche’ said. “At the same time trying to stay consistent with pitching was fun for me. I found it difficult and (there was) a new challenge in it. With practice being so long and so many reps, you become a better player pretty quickly.”
As his freshman season progressed, Piche’ started to notice small improvements he was making on the mound. He recorded 30 strikeouts and only four walks in 33 innings pitched.
“I think my freshman year I really made that jump. I was kind of a late bloomer for sure for pitching,” Piche’ said. “I realized my velocity was going up and I was maturing into my own body by working out and everything.”
As he, his teammates and his coaches started to notice the improvements being made, Piche’ really began to strive to keep getting better in a hope to continue playing after his two years of eligibility at Indian Hills had expired. There was only one problem - not very many others were taking notice. There were once again no offers to choose from.
With the help of his older brother, the two began their own recruiting service for Piche’. Any spare time they got away from the field or the classroom was dedicated to contacting programs in a hope to extend the younger Piche’s stay on the diamond.
“I sent so many emails out. I remember sitting in my dorm room and saying, ‘Hey coach my name is Jordan.’ I sent them my stats and told them I was interested in their program,” Piche’ said. “I did numerous emails like that and my brother helped me put all of those emails together in a formal way.”
Piche’ didn’t garner very many responses during that first year. However, that didn’t make him want to give up on his goal. Instead it made him hungrier to give even more effort to succeed at what he had set out to do.
With one year of eligibility left at Indian Hills, Piche’ hadn’t made any backup plans if baseball didn’t work out. He was 100 percent dedicated to getting noticed and instead of hanging up his cleats, he sold himself to the sport. With persistence and an eye-opening sophomore campaign on the mound, heads began to turn in his direction. After sending updated emails with his sophomore stat line of a 7-2 record with a 2.21 ERA, 58 strikeouts and only eight walks in 89 innings pitched, Piche’ began drawing interest from the places that had once glanced over him.
“Sure enough my sophomore year I got quite a bit of interest back from universities and different schools in the area,” Piche’ said. “It was just a matter of who comes across you and who you’re interested in.”
There was one midwestern school that ended up reaching out and capturing Piche’s interest over all others.
“I remember the day that Ritchie (Assistant Coach Ritchie Price) called me. That was just awesome and a surreal moment - The University of Kansas is calling me. Just talking to him was a surreal moment and also humbling,” Piche’ said. “I remember talking to him and their interest level was high for me because they needed a pitcher in the back end to fill that spot.”
The rest became history.
In his debut season for Kansas in 2013, Piche’ appeared in 32 games, pitched 64.1 innings and finished the season 6-4 with a 1.68 ERA, 12 saves, 49 strikeouts and 10 walks. He streaked to 25 appearances without allowing an earned run during the season and collected a handful of accolades. That list was long, highlighted by being named to the ABCA All-Midwest Region Second Team and 2013 Phillips 66 Big 12 Baseball Championship All-Tournament Team. Along with being selected to the 2013 All-Big 12 First Team, Piche’ was also honored with the conference’s Newcomer of the Year award.
Even with all of the success from the previous season, Piche’ still approaches the game today with that same chip on the shoulder, blue-collar mentality that landed him at Kansas and gave him the honor of being named a captain his senior season.
“I definitely didn’t expect to be a captain. Work ethic really does pay off,” Piche’ said. “If you have a good work ethic and you really work hard, you’re going to find success and I think that’s what happened for me.”
In his quest to best his personal numbers, as well as the team goals on the field goals for this season, Piche’ once again noted work ethic as the key to sustaining and building upon his achievements from last season.
“I want to play off of the same role I had and just keep rolling with the momentum that I created for myself last year,” Piche’ said. “I would like to top the numbers that I had last year. There are a lot of things that I could have fixed last year that I think we really refined this offseason.”
Fast forward back to the current season; the reminiscing process is temporarily put on hold. As the innings wear on and Piche’ gets the call to start getting loose to trot out to the mound to decide the game, the thoughts that had been drifting in and out of his head for the past couple of hours suddenly cease. They will return, but for now it’s strictly business.
Familiar thoughts of determination and motivation to succeed once again fill his head. The same tools for success Piche’ used to get the opportunity to close out games for the Jayhawks are now put behind every pitch he winds up to throw.
“Having the ability to throw in that situation really pumps me up, I find a peace in it. Once I’m on the mound I lose myself,” Piche’ said. “I’m not thinking. I can go back after the game and it feels like I blacked out. It’s a surreal moment that I lose myself in.”
After the last pitch is thrown and the final out has been recorded, the weight of the moment along with his overall experience with baseball catches back up with him. Piche’ can’t help but welcome those positive thoughts of success back into his mind after another game has been completed.“Being able to do what I did last year is still kind of shocking for me. I catch myself in the moment too,” Piche’ said. “It’s just a really surreal, humbling moment that you don’t really picture. It’s something you can dream about, saying you want to be successful in Division I, but (you ask) ‘How successful can you really be?’ I look back on it and it’s kind of like a fairy tale for me.”