Written by Tim Gallagher, BVU Assistant Director of Communications
STORM LAKE - Last weekend's less-than-ideal spring weather threw a figurative curve ball at the Buena Vista University baseball team, forcing the Beavers to make two trips across Iowa to complete a three-game series at Luther College.
Ultimately, the Beavers split a Friday double-header and then won the series with a show of resilience (or a resilient demonstration of resiliency) in a wild 13-11 victory in 13 innings over the Norse on Sunday.
Joe Rock, the Beavers' junior first-baseman, was all smiles on Monday as he headed into the trainer's room at Siebens Fieldhouse in search a little late-season regular maintenance.
"We got back at 12:30 this morning," Rock says. "But it was a nice bus ride home."
Four Beaver pitchers missed on save opportunities from the ninth through the 12th inning, a blip coaches Steve Eddie and Steve Sonka say they've never witnessed before. And yet, each time, the club responded by taking leads in the top half of the next frame. Ultimately, senior reliever Clayton Christian retired the Norse in order in the 13th inning to secure the win, BVU's seventh in its last eight contests.
The triumph sets up a pivotal home-series finale Friday and Saturday as Dubuque visits Storm Lake. The Beavers, who trail Luther by a single game in the race for second place in the league's regular-season standings, sit one-half game behind the Spartans.
"We will face a couple of really good arms in Dubuque, the defending champions of the conference," Eddie says. "The Spartans are playing their best baseball of the season right now. So are we."
The season represents a watershed campaign for Rock, a first-baseman who has put the injury bug in the past while logging 25 starts. The lefty has compiled a .369 average, third best on the team, while collecting a half-dozen doubles and 22 RBIs.
"This is the first year Joe has been completely healthy," says Eddie, disclosing how Rock was slowed by a foot injury and subsequent surgery following his freshman season.
"This is the first year Joe has been able to fully get into our off-season strength program and he's been healthy since day one," Eddie says. "He knew all along what type of player he could be, but it took him a while to get healthy and then really get settled in. He's turned out to be a very important hitter in our lineup."
Rock, who often bats third, uses all fields, shows patience, and has demonstrated an ability to move runners who reach base ahead of him. He collected six hits in 16 at-bats while driving in four runs at Luther.
"This isn't about me and it won't ever be," says Rock, who leads the team in prayer before each game. "I'm enjoying some individual success, but it's more important that our team is playing well. I'm enjoying the excitement as the team continues its trajectory."
Rock, who wasn't heavily recruited out of Mahtomedi High School in Minnesota, played regularly only as a prep senior. When the time came, though, he and his classmates made the most of their chance by advancing all the way to the state finals.
"The gift has been in my period of waiting," he says. "And the fact I wasn't heavily recruited has been a chip I carry on my shoulder."
Rock also carries a backpack on his shoulder, one that contains a laptop and homework assignments as he juggles demands of two majors in business and Spanish, along with baseball. Rock has made the most of his BVU time, completing a sports marketing Interim experience in Phoenix, Ariz., as a freshman, then doing an internship at an assisted living facility in Marshall, Minn. Three months ago, he enjoyed a cultural-immersion Interim experience in Spain. He'll complete another internship this summer at Wells Fargo in Minneapolis.
"Buena Vista ended up being the right choice for me," says the oldest son of John and Shelly Rock, of rural Peterson. "BVU had the majors I was interested in and coming here made financial sense, thanks to the available scholarships. Being here also allowed me the chance to keep playing baseball."
The man who fills out the lineup card is glad BVU fit this Rock like a glove. Or, ahem, a first-baseman's mitt in this case.
"The guys on our team look at Joe as someone who does it all the right way," Eddie says. "He's calm, cool, collected, and he treats everyone with respect. He'll be successful no matter what he ends up doing."