As the beginning of the 2021 season approaches, Western Michigan’s baseball will look to have what many believe might be a successful season. In the MAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Broncos were picked to finish No. 6 in the conference. WMU had the second-best record in the MAC before the season was cancelled due to COVID-19 just a year ago.
One reason many think this may be the case is the return of senior shortstop Drew Devine, who was an integral piece of the Broncos lineup in 2018 and ‘19.
Devine has faced an incredible amount of adversity over the last year, as he found out just 3 weeks before the 2020 season kicked off that he had torn his UCL, which would end his season. He had Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ligament, a procedure 1,941 other baseball players from college to MLB underwent in 2020 alone including two Broncos, as catcher Conner Charping also underwent the surgery last spring.
It has been about a year since the devastating injury, and Devine said the recovery was long, but he is thankful he had the proper amount of time to get rehabilitated and prepared for the upcoming season.
“I got lucky that all I had to do was quarantine and focus on rehab. The minutes went slow, but the months went fast, and I’m back, healthy, and ready to play,” Devine said.
After such a severe injury, many players might get discouraged having to watch their teammates from the sidelines, especially when this Broncos team was having a lot of early success. WMU was 9-6 at the time the season was canceled due to COVID-19, and they were ranked No. 12 in the NCAA in runs scored per game, No. 15 in stolen bases (35) and No. 24 in runs scored (129). Devine wasn’t just a bystander in the dugout though, as he made the best of his situation during the shortened season.
“It brings a whole new perspective to it, you get to watch things that you don’t normally necessarily see, kind of seeing everything from the sidelines and being able to slow it down a little bit. It gave me a chance to help some of the younger guys that got thrown in there,” Devine said.
Many sports at the collegiate level have struggled in the past year in getting properly prepared for their seasons, but that has not been the case for WMU baseball. While Devine has been rehabbing and getting back to full health, his teammates have found unique and creative ways to get practice and their workouts going in a safe way.
“There wasn’t any complaining about it. We found new ways, maybe get a parking lot workout in or some wiffle ball, that was kind of a constant theme throughout the summer. I don’t think (COVID-19) necessarily affected us a ton, we have a pretty relentless group of guys that are ready to go at all times,” Devine said.
Although the Broncos found some success early in the season last year, Devine’s presence on the field was undeniably missed. In his sophomore and junior seasons, he played and started in all but 1 of the 97 games the Broncos played. In 2019, he was Second Team All-MAC, ranked second on the team with a .359 batting average along with a .484 slugging percentage and added a .400 on-base percentage. He also hit 15 doubles, which was tied for seventh-most in a single season in school history.
The importance of statistics like that coming from your shortstop cannot be understated. With junior outfielder Blake Dunn being named MAC Preseason Player of the Year and the potent offense that already exists, Devine believes last year was only beginning to scratch the surface of what this team can do.
“The ceiling is really up to us. It’s us going out and playing with confidence everyday. There’s guys with a lot of talent and guys that are expecting to play well and that I think will, so it’s kinda up to us. I think we’re ready to go and prepared to win,” Devine said.
Devine said he’s feeling healthier than ever, and Western Michigan baseball fans are going to love having him back. He and the Broncos get the season started with a three-game series at Kansas State Friday through Sunday.