Walz Cements His Place as One of KU's Best
May 14, 2011
It was not a fierce pitchers’ duel that gave Kansas senior T.J. Walz his historic 26th career victory and 300th career strike-out Friday night at Hogland Ballpark, but he will take it.
The right hander went seven innings and gave up four runs on six hits while striking out five batters in his team’s 14-4, seven inning victory over Alabama A&M. Win No. 26 puts him into a first place tie with former KU great Jim Phillips (1980-83), and strike out Nos. 300 and 301 put him even further into first place on the all-time KU strike-out list, now 59 ahead of Rusty Phillbrick (1997-2000).
“I don’t think any of it has really hit me,” Walz said after the game. “I am sure I will look back and think about how much fun I had, but I just could not be more thankful.”
The record-tying win and milestone strikeout are just two of four total Jayhawk pitching records that Walz can hang his hat on. The Omaha, Nebraska native already owns program bests in innings pitched (322.1), and games started, (49).
“I have been fortunate enough in my career to coach a lot of outstanding pitchers,” said KU head coach Ritch Price. “Certainly, since I have been at Kansas, T.J. has been one of the top guys that we have had.”
Price recognizes the select company his prized hurler keeps. The right hander is only the 10th pitcher in Big 12 Conference history to reach the 300 strike-out plateau.
“He is in an elite group, there is no doubt about that,” said Price. “When you play in this league and you play all 27 games, you realize how hard it is to play at this level. For him to be in the top 10 is an amazing feat.”
Consider the fact that Walz entered the KU baseball program as a walk-on, and his coaches give good reason for his feats being so impressive.
“He has done everything we have asked him to do and he is one of the best workers he have had here,” Jayhawk pitching coach Ryan Graves said. “He deserves all the accolades he is going to get.”
“He is one of the great stories in all of college baseball,” Price said. “For him to reach those milestones is something really special and just shows his development in our program.”
While Walz had to wait for his 26th victory to become official in the bottom of the seventh, one of his two milestones coming into Friday night’s game was taken care of in the top half of the inning, after he fanned Alabama A&M catcher Chris Thomas for his 300th ‘K’.
“I figured I got it in the last inning, but I was not sure,” said Walz, who was actually unaware of his landmark feat until he saw it flashed upon the scoreboard after the top of the seventh. “I am proud because there have been a lot of great pitchers who have come through here.”
Now Walz, who is one victory away from owning four of KU’s most prestigious pitching records, is one of those elite to come through the program he worked so hard to break into.
“He has been all about development, because he has worked really hard in the weight room and in the long toss program,” said Coach Price. “He has improved his velocity dramatically since he has been here and it has truly been a pleasure to watch his growth as a player.”
“He took full advantage of the opportunity we gave him and he has been as good a teammate and as good a player as we’ve had,” said Graves.
For Walz, while Friday night’s performance was one to remember, it was also bittersweet because of the finality of his start.
“I am sad it was my last time pitching here at KU on our home field,” Walz said, who is next scheduled to pitch against K-State on May 20th in Manhattan. “It was fun to just go out and pitch for these guys. It is what I have been doing for four years and I will cherish these times forever.”
While Walz holds his many accomplishments in high regard, the soon-to-be-graduate won’t mind if he sees someone else come along and knock him off his pedestal
“I do hope someone breaks it soon because that means the team will be doing well,” he said. “There are even guys on the team right now that are capable of doing that, so I hope they do.”
For this humble hurler, the numbers 26 or 300 will not define his last four years in the Crimson and Blue, nor will it be No. 39 he wore on his back as he took the hill for almost 50 times since his freshman year. Instead it will be another numeral that he is now so closely associated with: 1.