Last year was the most frustrating for redshirt junior Eric Erickson.
The 6-feet, 188-pound left-hander had Tommy John surgery last year and missed the entire 2009 season. The injury really handicapped the Hurricane pitching staff as the team had an ERA of 4.71 and no starter had an ERA below 4.00.
“I really missed being part of the team last year,” said Erickson, a Sarasota, Fla. native. “Last year was just really frustrating and patience was the biggest thing for me. I don’t like watching other people play and I don’t think anyone does. I am a big competitor.”
Erickson was drafted out of high school in the 43rd round by the New York Yankees but elected to pass on the pros and attend the University of Miami to study sports administration.
This past year, he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 20th round of the MLB draft despite the fact that he never threw a pitch.
“What I like about Eric is that he is a winner and a hard worker,” said Polando Pino, the Cubs scout who evaluated Erickson. “We drafted him because of his ability to be a good pitcher. In high school he was a winner and he was a winner at Miami too. Seven out of 10 pitchers come back stronger from Tommy John surgery. We were not worried.”
Erickson worked tirelessly in rehabilitation this past year to get back in form.
“I feel perfect,” Erickson said. “I can say I feel better than I did in high school and my freshman year here. I’m pitching in games, throwing bullpens, I’m doing everything and I feel great.”
Those are encouraging words for Hurricane fans. Erickson is 19-5 in his Cane career, which has earned him a very respectable 3.27 ERA.
“I just want to see the [Erickson] we saw before,” head coach Jim Morris said. “And so far, that is what we have seen when he pitched in the fall in a couple of intrasquad games.”
Erickson works quickly and keeps the defense on the balls of their feet. He is a strike-throwing machine and has an above average 3.9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“From his first day back he had the command,” pitching coach JD Arteaga said. “He has never been much of a power guy but he has always been able to pitch and locate. The big thing with him is building his endurance. We will take it slow in the beginning especially since he has not pitched in over a year.”
During the rehab process, Erickson sought advice from former teammate and first round draft choice Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez, like Erickson, was a redshirt junior after he had Tommy John surgery.
Erickson’s total focus this semester is devoted to baseball.
“I’m on vacation,” he said with a smile. “I have a yoga class that I take once a week on Tuesday mornings. Tuesday and Thursday I have two dance classes. I am taking a sports law class too that meets once a week at night and another class.”
Erickson claims that the yoga and dance classes help with his agility and not only fulfill credit requirements, but also help him on the baseball diamond.
“We have been stretching a lot. I think it will help me in more ways than one. I have done Pilates but never yoga. A lot of big leaguers do it, like Barry Zito,” he said.
The last time Erickson pitched was in relief in the College World Series in 2008 against arch-rival Florida State. Senior right-hander David Gutierrez started the game but got hit in the chest on a line drive in the second inning and was forced to leave the game. Erickson was called upon and tossed five innings of one run baseball and struck out six Seminoles to pick up the win in an elimination game.
Erickson hopes to bring the Hurricanes back to Omaha for the 12th time in the Jim Morris era.
“We are going to be a Cinderella story,” Erickson said. “We are a sleeping giant. There is no reason why we shouldn’t go to Omaha and win the whole thing.”
Justin Antweil may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.