RCW: Turski’s Triumph
High school, college, job. That’s the path that the majority of people take when entering their adult lives. For Kansas baseball’s 24-year-old pitcher, Taylor Turski, the journey did not go in that order.
Born and raised in Temecula, California, Turski played in his first T-ball game at just 3 years old. He has known since a young age that baseball is his passion.
“My dad said I was picking up a ball and just throwing it to him when I was 2 and I think that’s where I just picked it up,” Turski said. “I learned to love it.”
Baseball shaped much of Turski’s childhood, playing competitively year-round throughout elementary, middle and high school.
By the age of 10, Turski was so sure of his baseball abilities he would tell his parents that one day he would be pitching against big teams like University of Texas and TCU. Although they believed in his abilities, Turski’s parents often warned him how difficult that dream would be to fulfill.
“I just wanted to prove to them that I could do it,” Turski said.
In order to ensure that he reached his dream to play Division I college baseball, Turski committed fully to the game. Golf is the only other sport he has taken part in.
“That’s the only sport my dad would let me play besides baseball because he didn’t want me to get hurt playing anything else,” Turski said. “I just played for fun.”
Turski’s dedication paid off. During his freshman and sophomore season and Temecula Valley High School, Turski earned baseball letters. As a sophomore, he was named first team all-conference and second team all-state.
While on track to play college baseball as Turski had hoped, things slightly veered off course.
In the summer of 2009, following his sophomore year of high school Turski underwent Tommy John surgery for an elbow injury on his pitching arm that had been causing him pain for much of his sophomore season. This operation warranted a year and a half recovery process. Because of the Tommy John surgery, Turski had to sit out his entire junior season and only pitched in five games his senior year.
While pitching in these five games his senior year, Turski found that he was developing shoulder problems from being overcautious following his elbow surgery.
“They said I was babying my elbow which is pretty normal after coming off of Tommy John surgery,” Turski said. “The doctor said there was a slight tear in my ligament and I’d ruin it if I kept on pitching. It’d get worse and I’d have to get another surgery.”
Turski opted to not undergo a second surgery following the long and painful recovery of his first operation.
“I had just gotten done with a year and a half recovery,” Turski said. “So I wasn’t too fond of the idea of getting another surgery and starting that recovery again. The doctor said I could take a couple years off and see how it feels after that.”
After 18 years of nothing but baseball, Turski was now forced to take a step back. Although he was disappointed about needed to take time off of baseball, Turski was sure he would return to the sport again.
At this crucial crossroad in his life, Turski chose to make the most of the situation at hand. In the summer of 2011, the state of California was suffering through a drought. While many of Turski’s teammates and friends were heading off to college, he decided to take a completely different path. Using the work ethic and commitment he learned in all of his years playing competitive baseball, Turski and a friend opened up an artificial grass company. Because of the Golden State’s drought, California residents were encouraged not to use excess water to keep up their lawns, so the two friends thought residents may be interested in an alternate solution to the problem.
“There was another investor who came up with the idea that we worked for,” Turski said. “He gave us the idea and that’s how it all started. It had to do with the drought that California was going through and how people were switching to artificial turf in their front lawns and backyards.”
The company, AGL, was bought out two years later. Around that same time, that Turski planned to make a major change in his life.
By the time that AGL was bought out, it had been four years since Turski played a full season of baseball, and two since he had last picked up a ball. Baseball seemed to be a thing of the past for Turski until he came across his old gloves.
“For two years I didn’t even touch a baseball. Never,” Turski said. “I was getting ready to move to San Francisco to take a job offer that I had up there for graphic design and I was packing up my stuff and my gloves were the last two things I had in my room.”
Turski realized that that if he moved to San Francisco, his baseball dream would officially be over.
“I just looked at my gloves and was like, ‘I can’t just leave,'” Turski said.
Following the realization that he could not completely abandon his baseball dreams, Turski picked up the phone, called his dad and threw a baseball for the first time in two years.
“It took a lot to even play catch again. It was hard,” Turski said.” “I knew I wanted to come back and pitch again but there I was and it felt like I had a brand new arm
After pitching without any pain for the first time since his sophomore year of high school, Turski sought out to play college baseball.
He attended Palomar College in Southern California, not too far from his hometown. His freshman season began at the age of 21. Many had their doubts, including the coaches.
“My coach said I might get to throw 10 innings out of the bullpen. I wasn’t going to have that,” Turski said, “Ten innings, no. So I proved him wrong.”
Turski indeed proved everyone wrong. During his freshman campaign, Turski had a perfect 8-0 record and an opponent batting average of 0.191, and 59 strikeouts with only 15 walks. In 79 innings pitched, he recorded a 1.03 ERA. He was named First Team All-Southern California and Second Team All-State.
This stellar freshman season is what caught the eye of Division I coaches, especially Kansas Associate Head Coach, Ryan Graves.
“We have a good relationship with their coach and we’ve known them a long time,” Graves said. “We heard his story. He had done really well (his) freshman year and then (we) just tracked him as a sophomore and he continued to do well.”
As a sophomore, Turski’s success lead him to even more athletic accolades, including First Team All-Pacific Coast Athletic. Turski pitched to a 4-1 record with opponents’ batting average at a miniscule .170.
With two successful seasons under his belt, Turski was hopeful that he would be able to continue playing baseball following junior college, but his age and size scared many large universities away.
For the Kansas baseball program, Turski’s age and size were exactly what the coaches and team were looking for.
“His numbers were phenomenal so I actually viewed his age as a positive, that he would be more mature than the high school kids that we are bringing in,” Kansas Head Coach Ritch Price said, “Especially because we’re so young on our roster so I thought he would bring some maturity to our pitching staff.”
At the age of 24, Turski is now a the Friday night starting pitcher for the Jayhawks.
The coaches also applaud Turski’s mound presence and believe that his calm state while pitching is due to his experiences and maturity.
“Watching him pitch, his demeanor on the mound, he doesn’t get rattled by anything and stays nice and relaxed,” Graves said. “That was what we were looking for and what we had been preaching for a long time. I think he has influenced some of the other guys who are needing some of that.”
According to Price, Turski has an ability to pitch more precisely and strategically than players who come straight from high school.
“He’s a strike thrower, he knows how to control the running game,” Price said. “In the game we call that knowing how to play the game within the game. He’s much more adapt at all the little things than a high school player would be.”
The rareness that Price and Graves saw in Turski a year ago has translated to his play on the field. This season Turski has won five games pitching for the Jayhawks. He threw nine strikeouts versus TCU, held Houston Baptist to two hits and didn’t allow a single walk against Stanford. Turski also successfully pitched seven-straight innings against Baylor. He currently holds an average ERA of 2.54 and opponents have a batting average of only .185 against the lefty.
Turski’s coaches are not the only ones who notice his uniqueness.
Freshman catcher, Jaxx Groshans, who is six years younger than Turski, calls him a friend despite their age difference. Groshans also looks up to Turski because of his long journey in the sport of baseball.
“He’s been through a lot,” Groshans said. “I think all of the struggles he’s been through as far as his arm goes and being out of baseball for a long time and then coming back and making it this far. It’s all something we drive off of because (when) someone goes through hell like that and comes back and makes it this far. That’s really something to look up to.”
After four years without baseball, Turski has defied all odds. He is playing the game he loves and calls this season his proudest accomplishment. He proved to his doctors that he would play baseball again, his junior college coaches that he would make an impact and to his dad that he would be pitching against some of the best teams in the nation.