Talawanda graduate Braden Park was part of his second national baseball championship this spring and he would like to see number three next year.
One thing he would not like to repeat in 2013, however, is the injuries that hampered his playing time as he and his Marietta College teammates claimed two straight NCAA Division III College World Series titles.
While his college career has been hampered by his injury, he is upbeat about being a part of such a successful team and wants to be a bigger part of Marietta’s baseball team next spring for his senior season.
“I want to come back this summer and not be stuck on the couch watching TV,” he said. “We were loaded (this year). We knew this was going to be our year. Our number 1 pitcher and our shortstop were drafted. We lost our whole pitching staff and middle infield.”
He said they have a solid junior class moving up next year and the biggest problem may be replacing that pitching staff.
“We might win games 8-6, not 4-1 like this year,” he said. “We’ll have a good number of seniors next year, 10 or 11. Juniors and seniors were pretty much our lineup this year. We have a lot of great players (coming back) to give it a run for a three-peat.”
Park, a 2009 Talawanda graduate, was hampered in last year’s championship by a foot injury that required offseason surgery. He was not fully recovered this season and his playing time was limited because of the mobility he needed to play first base. As a result, he was the Pioneers’ designated hitter for most of the season.
“Last year I had a broken foot and needed offseason surgery. I missed the offseason program and was not in the best baseball shape so I had a slow start,” he said, adding that he struggled at the plate during the team’s spring break trip to Florida but began to turn his season around in a game on their way back to Ohio. “I got sat down a little bit but I got a game-winning base hit on the way home. I had a great middle and end (of the season), hitting .460 (for part of the season). I played about half the games this season.”
The Marietta College baseball team captured their sixth title in the Division 3 NCAA World Series with Park, a junior, serving as designated hitter. The six baseball titles are the most by any school in Division 3 history and it was the 22nd appearance in the championship series by the school. Their 2012 title is the first back-to back Division 3 College World Series championships since 1979.
“It’s my second ring. It’s exciting knowing what has gone into it,” Park said. “It’s just a thrill. Most people do not get to play on a championship team and only a few get to do it back-to-back.”
Overall, he hit .330 in 88 at bats and scored 12 runs. He had only one plate appearance in each of the NCAA Mideast Regional and D3 College World Series but said another hitter got hot at the right time and he had to watch both series from the dugout.
His play in the regional and College World Series was limited because a teammate came through in a clutch situation.
“A guy got a hit and the coach stayed with what wins, I try to be a team player,” Park said. “It was exciting. The regional was quite a bit of fun. I played some first base in the College World Series.”
He said he is proud of being part of the first team in three decades to win back-to-back titles in D-3 NCAA baseball, especially after he was told it was the longest time without back-to-back titles in any NCAA sport.
“It was kind of like a curse to not do it,” he said.
Marietta hosted the Ohio Athletic Conference and NCAA regional championship tournaments and traveled to Appleton, Wis. for the national championship tournament. Early losses in both the regional and national tournaments forced Marietta to play through the elimination brackets and win twice over the same team to win.
“We lost a game early in the regional and lost a game early in the World Series, so it was exciting, knowing we faced elimination,” Park said.
He said it is great to be part of two of Marietta’s six national titles, but being part of the only team with back-to-back titles means something to him.
“This team is real special. It does not matter if I could not play,” he said. “It took all 25 to win. With playing time, it was a struggle at the end but it made me work hard and helped me grow as a team player.”
Park earned ten varsity letters for the Talawanda Braves—three in football, four in hockey and three in baseball.
One of his Talawanda highlights was being named conference player of the year and second-team all-Ohio his senior year in baseball. Another was three hockey league championships and winning the Cleveland tournament.
“Friday night football was a blast,” he said. “I always liked the senior nights and wanted to see (the seniors) walk off happy. I wanted to send seniors away with a last win and we did it three years. My senior (night) was special.”
Park played third base his freshman year at Marietta, but moved to first last year before his injury and planned on being there this year until his injury did not heal as expected and he was forced into the DH role.
“I could not even wear cleats. It made it difficult to play first,” he said. “There was a lot of frustration. I was 19-for-41 going into the regional but a guy got a hit and got in there. It was a lot of fun.”