When freshman Mikey Kluska stepped to the plate on Saturday against Texas Tech, it was almost as if West Virginia had already won the game. With the bases loaded and no outs, against the No. 7 team in the country, most freshmen would crumble in that situation. Kluska however, did not. In a 1-2 count, Kluska ripped a ball towards first base, but the catcher did not tag home, allowing West Virginia to win 6-5.
You might think that this type of moment might phase someone as young as Kluska, especially after struggling as much as he was. Coming into this at bat, Kluska had gotten only three hits in his last 21 at bats, good enough for a .143 average in that span.
Head coach Randy Mazey said, “it’s good for him because the last three or four games he hadn’t had much luck and I’m sure he’s looking at his batting average, which is really the biggest confidence killer in all of sports. He’s been asking a lot more questions lately. He just got back to what he knows how to do.”
Getting back to what Kluska knows how to do was just in fact what he did as this was not Kluska’s first walk-off. On March 13, the Mountaineers were struggling and needed a spark.
After losing two straight games, and being in the second game of a doubleheader, Kluska hit a walk-off home run against Central Michigan to give the Mountaineers an 8-7 extra innings win.
These kinds of moments can form someone’s identity and tell about who they are.
Mazey said, “some guys over time get an identity to what kind of player they are. He has an identity but it hasn’t taken much time. He’s a true freshman that has come in here and has never been rattled by a situation and just continues to do what he continues to do, which is play really good shortstop and be really, really competitive at the plate.”
Kluska was not supposed to even be in this situation. After an injury to Tevin Tucker, Kluska was thrusted into the role of being the starting shortstop for this Mountaineer team.
“It’s terrible what happened to Tevin, but I’m just trying to help our team win and do the best I can,” Kluska said.
Kluska is from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and originally committed to West Virginia when he was a sophomore at Greenbriar East High School. Then, during his junior year he went to IMG Academy in Florida, and there he felt like he was able to get better before coming here this past fall.
“I think my high school coach really helped me get prepared to come here. In the summers when I would come home, he would work with me a lot,” Kluska said.
Mazey also did not think Kluska was going to be this good this quickly, as he thought it would take time for him to develop into an everyday player.
“When Mikey first committed here, he probably didn’t weigh 140 pounds. I think he was a sophomore in high school, and really really was a long way, we thought at that time from being strong enough to be able to compete at this level,” Mazey said. “Between his sophomore year of high school and when he got here, he took it upon himself to gain a lot of weight, get bigger, stronger, faster. His career has been expedited a little bit. He’s doing things as a freshman that most people don’t do until they are a junior because of the work he put in before he got to West Virginia. All credit goes to Mikey on that one.”
Klsuka has found success this season, and he has been one of the better and most consistent offensive threats for the Mountaineers. Kluska is hitting .292 on the year and leads the team with 21 runs batted in. Kluska also leads the team in hits with 35, and has hit four home runs on the season.
“For me it’s been finding a good routine everyday. Doing the same thing when I show up to the ballpark before a game,” Kluska said. “All of that does make a big difference, and just keeping a steady mind and a level head through all the highs and lows, because it’s a super long season and when you’re struggling you just have to keep going and grind out your at bats and plays in the field. That’s kind of been my mindset and it’s helped me a lot.”
Kluska’s mindset is what truly separates him from a lot of others. He just tries to compete everyday, and work on getting better and being prepared for situations like he faced on Saturday.
“From the day I got here I wasn’t really focused on playing time or anything. I just took it day by day and tried to work as hard as I can and improve myself,” Kluska said.
Kluska will try and lead the Mountaineers through a second half stretch that still has the Mountaineers face No. 8 TCU, and No. 3 Texas as they close out the last month of the regular season, and hopefully he will be able to lead the Mountaineers for years to come.
Photo by Dale Sparks, WVU