Historically when you think of West Virginia University athletics, what may come to mind is the great traditions that happen in Morgantown. Things like singing country roads, striping the stadium on fall afternoons, or you may think of more public faces such as head basketball coach Bob Huggins. Even college football stars Will Grier or Tavon Austin are some of the more memorable names in recent history. West Virginia has never had trouble letting the world know the types of athletes it produces from Olympians to top ten draft picks, but you never really hear much regarding West Virginia and its baseball team- until now.
Every year, Opening Day is a regarded as a holiday for baseball fans. It represents a new year and represents an opportunity for any team to win game 1 of 162. It is the beginning of the marathon that is Major League Baseball and gives fans the feeling that summer is right around the corner. Opening Day is also the day where teams will showcase their best talent. With everyone starting on the same day, and every team being well rested after a long five month offseason, teams will usually look to their best pitcher or their “ace” to pitch in the first game of the year.
One of those “aces” was former Mountaineer John Means of the Baltimore Orioles. Last Friday, April 2, Means took the mound at Fenway Park to face the Boston Red Sox.
Means was only the seventh Mountaineer to play for a Major League club since 2000. Means played for WVU in 2013 and 2014. In that span he started 25 games, with a 10-6 record, finishing with a 3.24 ERA and struck out 100 in 141.2 career innings.
Means although not overly impressive, was drafted 331st overall, in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft.
In 2018, Means got the call that every baseball player dreams of. He found out he would be going to the major leagues in the fall of 2018. He only appeared in one game and struggled, but it was the stepping stone for a strong year in 2019.
In 2019, Means was an All-Star for the Orioles. Means started 27 games in 2019, finishing with a 3.60 ERA, pitching 155.0 innings, and finishing the year with 121 strikeouts.
Last year in 2020, Means only pitched in 10 games in a shortened 60 game season, but still was able to finish with 42 strikeouts in 43.2 innings pitched.
Then came this year. Means took the mound against the Red Sox on Opening Day and dominated. Means pitched 7.0 innings, giving up only one hit, and striking out five, leading the Orioles to a 3-0 win.
“It was pretty special,” Means said. “Fenway Park holds a special place in my heart. It was a really cool experience.”
Orioles’ manager Brandon Hyde was also impressed with how Means pitched on Opening Day.
“I thought he did an amazing job,” Hyde said. “Just a clinic pitching wise. The best I’ve seen him pitch.”
Both Mean and Hyde hope that success carries on throughout the season. As for WVU, having a pitcher like Means helps show the country that professional baseball players can come out of Morgantown. Means should be a candidate to be an All-Star yet again this year and should he continue to dominate on the mound, it could lead the way for more Mountaineers performing on baseball’s biggest stage.
Photo by Kathryn Riley, MLB Photos