Gressick's fantastic journey
Tenacious Lancaster native works his way into Reds' farm system
By JOE ARNOLD
Anthony Gressick has seen more of the United States in the last two-and-a-half weeks than most will lays eyes on in a lifetime. In 17 short days, the Fisher Catholic graduate has put a successful college career in his rearview mirror and now, as property of the Cincinnati Reds, is trying to make it as a professional.
The Lancaster native and former Ohio University star now calls Billings, Mont., home. It's the latest stop on a three-state, three-city tour that culminated with Gressick's first professional start last Saturday.
"It's been crazy, trying to figure out where I was headed," Gressick said. "It was definitely hectic."
Gressick began the month in Athens, listening to streaming audio of Major League Baseball's draft when, on June 7, the draft's second day, he was scooped up by the Reds in the 26th round (No. 774). Four days later he was in Sarasota, Fla., for a four-day mini-camp, where he was assigned to the Pioneer League.
By week's end, Gressick was in Billings, preparing for his first trip to the mound as a professional.
"It was a real battle in those first two to three innings to settle down and keep my nerves under control," he said. "I was starting on the fifth day, so I got to watch the competition level. Once I got out there, I was really trying to focus on throwing strikes. You don't want to walk everyone in your first pro start."
Gressick pitched five innings and gave up three hits and struck out three in the Mustangs' 9-1 win over Helena.
As a pitching prospect, Gressick has traded in his time in the batting cage for more time on the mound. He hasn't touched a bat in three weeks.
"It will do me some good to focus on one thing instead of splitting practice time," he said. "I get to hone in on pitching."
He batted .372 last season for the Bobcats and led the team in home runs (eight), RBI (43) and slugging percentage (.587). The monster season, one in which Gressick missed four weeks on mound with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, earned him third-team All-American status. He was an All-American in 2004, and with this season's honor, became just the third Bobcat to be a two-time All-American. He joined Dick Murphy and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt in the elite club.
"I can't say I expected to be mentioned in the same sentence as Mike Schmidt," Gressick said. "If I can even sniff the success they've had, I can say my career was a success."
Longtime Bobcats coach Joe Carbone, who played alongside Schmidt in 1969, said he saw Gressick's ability long ago during the recruiting process.
"He's a pretty special guy," he said. "He's one of those kids that has great ability and is very coachable and very tough both mentally and physically. He played two positions for us (pitcher and outfield) whenever we needed him. He was a coach's dream."
Gressick's career at Ohio was nearly derailed twice in four years, as the righthander weathered and bounced back from two injuries and an illness. In 2004, his first All-American season, Gressick underwent ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in his throwing elbow. The procedure, commonly known as Tommy John surgery, relegated Gressick to the role of designated hitter. He took the injury in stride, finishing with a .377 average and 16 home runs, 45 RBI and a .705 slugging percentage.
In addition to the surgery, which typically carries with it a year's worth of rehabilitation, Gressick was stricken with mononucleosis. He missed eight games.
"He always had a great demeanor," Carbone said. "He never got too high or too low. He had a lot of poise."
Gressick's composure was put to the test in March in a four-game series against Michigan State. During the second game of a doubleheader on March 18, Gressick slid headfirst into second base on a steal attempt and felt a twinge in his right shoulder. He shook it off and helped pitch the Bobcats to a 7-5 win in the series finale the next day.
Tests later revealed a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, and Gressick and Ohio prepared for the worst. So bad was the news that Ohio released a statement entitled "Bobcat Hurler Gressick Shut Down for Year." Gressick, faced with the season-ending diagnosis, began making plans for life after baseball.
"I was already registered for summer classes because I assumed I would be there," he said. "I had a job lined up with the (Southern Ohio) Copperheads."
Gressick obtained a second opinion from Cincinnati Reds team physician Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the doctor who performed his elbow surgery two years earlier.
"It wasn't as big of a deal as we originally thought," Gressick said. "He told me that he's seen a ton of these cases and that if it didn't hurt to throw, to go ahead and do it."
Gressick was back in the lineup four weeks later. The Bobcats staggered to an 8-9 mark during his absence.
"That hurt us," Carbone said. "I know he missed four or five starts in the conference. We missed out on the conference tournament by a percentage point. If we had him during that conference stretch, that would have helped us a lot."
After the labrum diagnosis was handed down in March, Gressick, who will get his second start of the season Thursday against the Great Falls (Mont.) White Sox, admitted to pondering whether or not he was destined for injury.
"That passes through your head. But let's put it into perspective," he said. "There are a lot worse things that could have happened. I've been gifted with a great family and great friends who have been there for me.
"Even at that low point, it wasn't really that bad. There could be a lot worse things that go wrong than just baseball."