SPORTS

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May 23, 2008

Versatility gave Meyer second shot

If you've got the right combination of talent and determination, bad luck is the only thing that can get in your way. When fate hoped to disrupt fourth-year designated hitter Dominik Meyer's plans for success, fate learned a painful lesson.

Graduating on the heels of one of the most dominant careers in recent Chicago baseball history, the River Forest native will leave Hyde Park a testament to the power of hard work. He'll also go down in the record books leading the Maroons in batting average and ERA across two separate seasons, a feat believed to be the first of its kind in modern program history. Although a natural hitter, Meyer joined the Maroons as a pitcher and ultimately rose to dominate on the mound after a couple of hard seasons. When forced to return to hitting, the warrior rocketed his way to the top spot.

Meyer's success story is not at all typical. A versatile player in high school, he thrived at multiple positions, getting playing time at catcher, first base, and shortstop, in addition to pitching.

He ran into big trouble when he broke his wrist playing football. The injury took him out of the baseball team's lineup, and he was relegated to pitching full-time.

"From my freshman year of high school until my fourth year at Chicago, I didn't hit," Meyer said.

The misfortune continued when he arrived in Chicago. Meyer contracted mono a month before the baseball season started, disrupting his workout routine and weakening his leg strength. A couple of poor outings and a 6.48 ERA was all it took to send him to the bench for the remainder of his first season.

Hoping to start his second season healthier, Meyer again found himself injured just before the start of the spring. Two abysmal losses and a 14.21 ERA later, Meyer was benched again.

"I decided that I wanted to go into medicine, so I was taking two labs, and it was really rough," Meyer said.

After two seasons of shockingly substandard play, Meyer met with Coach Baldea, who frankly said it was time for Meyer to step up his game or risk elimination from the active roster.

With pressure to perform at his best, Meyer knew that his team needed him to come through. After blazing his way through workouts and greatly increasing the speed of his fastball, Meyer gained the confidence necessary to pitch with pride.

"I felt that the team needed me to do well, and that I could do well," Meyer said.

Meyer's hard work paid off. The righty posted a team-leading 1.84 ERA in 2007, winning five games and notching 51 strikeouts. Now a force to be reckoned with on the mound, Meyer helped lead his squad to its eighth straight .500 or better season.

Riding his successful year into summer league play, misfortune once again reared its ugly head. In his last game of the summer, he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm, sending him to the operating room in September for Tommy John surgery and ending his pitching career.

"Generally, it's a year recovery period before you're allowed to pitch again. But the throwing program starts at about five months after surgery, so my goal was to be able to throw enough so that I could play first base in the spring."

Meyer wasn't going to let his injury sideline him for his final year with the Maroons. On the first day of practice for the '08 campaign, he commenced vigorous batting practice, hoping to bring back out his natural hitting talent.

"I told Coach Baldea that I could do one of two things: Either sit on the side and be a cheerleader, or I can give it my best and play," Meyer said.

Meyer's perseverance paid off. He readied himself for play in time for the Maroons' trip to Japan this past March to face off against Waseda University, the nation's College Baseball Champions. While Chicago didn't stand much of a chance in the three game series, Meyer went an astounding four-for-nine against some of the best young pitchers in Japan.

"That was definitely the biggest moment in my Maroons career, and it really helped my confidence," Meyer said.

Gleaming with confidence from his outstanding hitting in Japan, Meyer crushed balls left and right, ending up as the team's top hitter in '08 with a .352 average, 17 RBI, and a .446 slugging percentage. Since he wasn't quite ready to play in the field, Meyer was penciled into the lineup as the team's DH. In a sort of poetic justice, Meyer earned his greatest glory during the Maroons' final game of the year. With Chicago trailing IIT by a run in the eighth, Meyer belted a two-run homer to deliver a come-from-behind win for the Maroons.

"I had been in a bit of a slump going into that game," Meyer said. "The coach asked me if I wanted to play; I said if I go out and get hurt, I go out and get hurt. It wasn't like I was going to miss any more games."

This success story will graduate with a degree in psychology. He'll work as an EMT for a year before hopefully enrolling in medical school.