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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 22 2012

Kolpack: Bison baseball star back where he belongs

Fargo - The word on the street regarding the North Dakota State baseball team is it has a bunch of players willing to run through a brick wall for one another. The team’s solidarity is that good.

Count junior pitcher John Straka as one who would lead the charge – with his left shoulder. His other arm has gone through the wringer and back and should be placed on the endangered species list.

It was golden Tuesday night when he shut out the University of Minnesota at the Metrodome. For a kid who is from the Twin Cities (Chaska) and went 23 months without throwing in a game because of injuries, beating the hometown team felt like being a first-round major league draft choice.

“A dream come true, it was perfect,” he said. “Pure excitement.”

It was pure agony from the moment he tweaked something in his elbow in the last game of 2009 until throwing his first pitch almost two months into last season. The initial diagnosis two years ago was a strained elbow, so he took the entire summer off.

He came back in the fall feeling ready to go, but the ill-fated elbow feeling returned on his first attempt at throwing at 100 percent velocity. Another MRI confirmed he needed Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ligament in his elbow.

It meant another nine months on the shelf doing mostly rehabilitation exercises. The recovery went well, but his first throws to a live hitter were met with shoulder pain.

An MRI revealed nothing. After some time off, he started throwing again only this time, the damage progressed to the point where he couldn’t throw a ball 60 feet, 6 inches.

A doctor in the Twin Cities diagnosed it as a torn muscle in the shoulder. It meant another 4½ months of doing nothing.

Time to give up the game? Straka said that didn’t enter his mind.

“Not one second,” he said. “Every single day was one day closer to being back on the mound, being back on the field.”

He was a second team all-Summit League pitcher as a freshman. After the detour, he’s just happy to be on board.

NDSU has won eight straight after the two-game sweep of Minnesota and is 14-5 overall. That includes a win at Arizona.

“We just have a lot of guys who love baseball and work their tails off,” Straka said, “and that includes during the season, in the offseason, in the weight room and in the classroom.”

Oh, and in Straka’s case, in the rehabilitation room.


Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia