Have Faith in Christian ... He Does
Friday, November 11, 2005




by Jeff Messman

 

You couldn’t blame him if he wanted to quit.  Not after working so hard to recover from groin surgery, just to make it back in time to contract mononucleosis and lose 30 pounds.  Not after beating mono, returning to play, and cracking his sternum in a freak in-game accident.  Not after going 2-7 with an ERA approaching 10.  Not after struggling for playing time in a season he was expected to be the staff ace.

 

Circumstances like these would make almost anyone second guess if they should still be playing baseball.

 

Not Jon Christian.

 

Mind you, things didn’t start off so terribly for Christian.  At 6’3” and 205 pounds, with a fastball consistently hitting the low 90’s, he worked his way into the D-I ranks after transferring to Centenary from Bossier Parish Community College.  After a strong showing in fall workouts, the bar was set for high expectations come February.

 

And at first, he delivered.

 

Christian saw his first action of the season in the Gents fourth game against visiting Northern Iowa, a 9-5 victory.  He tossed 7.1 strong innings, giving up just three earned runs while striking out nine batters.  It looked as if the expectations were going to pan out.

 

But then it happened.  It happens on college campuses throughout the country every year.  It happens to freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  It happens to fraternities and sororities, to the campus paper staff, to the student government.  And yes, it happens to college athletes too.

 

Mononucleosis.

 

It took a while for everyone to realize what was happening.  As the fatigue kicked in, Christian thought it was just the combination of the season and his strenuous class load.  So he kept pitching, but not pitching well.  After less then stellar outings against Michigan State, Indiana, and Arkansas-Little Rock, he had dropped 30 pounds to 175, a shell of his former self.

 

Christian was put on the shelf for the next month.

 

With April rolling around, and the weight returning easier to his body, Christian felt well enough to get back on the mound.  After a few warm-up games to get back into the groove, he got the start at in-state rival Northwestern State, a team good enough to make an NCAA Regional at-large bid that season.  He pitched well, showing glimpses of what he could and was expected to do.  Unfortunately, Christian picked up the loss as the Gents struggled at the plate, but more importantly, he realized he was getting his stuff back.

 

After another strong outing, 2.2 hitless innings against Mid-Continent Conference foe Southern Utah, Christian picked up his second win of the season and picked up more confidence.  With three conference series remaining, Centenary had the inside track to another conference tournament bid.  And he was doing his part.

 

But then, for the second time in the season, another set back.

 

As the Gents were in the middle of their series against Mid-Con powerhouse Oral Roberts, Christian suffered a freak accident in the third game of the four game series.  In the bottom of the third, two outs, runner on first, he threw what anyone would have thought was a regular pitch.  With the runner going, the umpire called a delayed strike, throwing Christian off for a quick second.  As he turned back towards the plate, he came chest up with catcher Alex Maldonado’s attempt to throw out the ORU runner.  Only having enough time to cover his face, the ball hit Christian point blank in the chest, cracking his sternum.

 

“It was like, here we go again,” Christian said. “I mean, I had just started throwing half decent again, and this happens.  Now it’s another obstacle to overcome.”

 

Christian still finished out the season, ready to get what was nothing less of a dismal season behind him.  Appearing in less than four innings in the next twelve games, he knew he would still have to prove to everybody that he was capable at playing at this level.

 

“I knew I could still do it, and it was just a matter of getting in the innings and getting back into it,” he explained.  “I was so disappointed in my year, I figured I had a lot to prove.  Not to myself, because I knew I could do it, but to other people who never had a chance to see what I had.”

 

So last summer he and fellow rising senior Tim Ryan headed to Missouri to play with the Nevada Griffons of the Jayhawk League, a premier collegiate summer league.  Fully healed and recovered from his junior year maladies, he was in prime condition to showcase his abilities against some of the best talent in college baseball.

 

Not eager to put him in a starting role after his disaster of a season, the Griffons coaching staff took the next logical step with the 6’3” fireballer.  They made him a closer.

 

And Christian did not disappoint.  He lead the league with 14 saves as the Griffons went 32-27 over the summer, earning first team All-Jayhawk honors.  But as satisfying statistics are, what Christian was happiest about was his pitching returning to form.  Topping out at 96 on the radar gun, along with a slider in the mid-80’s, he had scouts grinning ear-to-ear as he was selected the eighth best pro prospect of the league by Baseball America.

 

When asked about the turnaround and the subsequent interest from scouts, Christian kind of brushes off the notion that he’s anything special.  “Sure, scouts came to talk to me during the summer,” he admitted, but added with such nonchalance he could have been talking about anyone, “but anytime you hit 96 on the gun, they’re going to come and say hello.”

 

But Christian knows that it takes more than a summer of success for scouts to take action instead of notice.  Back to full health, he’ll be part of a deep Gents rotation that will give him the opportunity ease into any needed role as the season progresses.

 

“We’re in a convenient situation where we have six or seven legitimate starters,” Gents head coach Ed McCann explained. “That puts us in a position with Jon that makes us not have to ink him into any specific role until the time comes.  If we need him to start, he’ll start.  If he has to close, he’ll close.  Either way, our staff is confident that he’ll perform at the highest possible level.”

 

Christian likes the idea that he hasn’t pigeonholed himself into either a starter or a closer, since both aspects of the game appeal to him.  “I like to close,” he confides. “That’s big time, game on the line type stuff, which I’m more mentally geared to.  Although, there’s nothing more rewarding than going out for seven, eight, or nine innings and just shutting someone down.  But pitching is pitching.  I’ll battle and put 100 percent into any role I’m given.”

 

And the Gents will need everything they can get out of him this season.  With back-to-back appearances in the Mid-Con tournament, including a runner-up finish last season, Christian, McCann, and the rest of the Gents know that they still have to get over the hump of defeating eight time defending champs Oral Roberts.

 

“We’ve got a strong chance this year to compete for the title against ORU,” Christian believes. “We won’t boot stomp ‘em, but we won’t be pushovers either.”

 

Looking down the road, Christian has the same dream that every other red-blooded American, or in his case Canadian, has. 

 

To play baseball for a living. 

 

“My dream goal would, of course, be playing pro ball,” he says. “But I’m not setting my sights on it right now.  I know that if I can help the team, throw as well as I know I can, good things will come for me.”

 

And with all the tools, drive, opportunity, and intangibles to make his dreams come true, all that’s left is for people to have a little faith in Jon Christian.  He sure does.