Tanner Witt thought his baseball career was over.
Witt, a 2009 Lake Zurich graduate who went on to star at Kansas State, had worked out for a number of MLB organizations, including the Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Anaheim Angels and Kansas City Royals.
When there were no nibbles, he spent some time in Austin, Texas, and helped coach a travel team. Maybe it was being back on the diamond again as a coach, or maybe it was following his former teammates at Kansas State as they recounted their latest games. Whatever the reason, Witt suddenly had the itch to play again. This spring, he contacted James Frisbie, the manager of the Frontier League’s Rockford Aviators.
Despite not having swung a baseball bat in about a year, Witt was signed by the Aviators on May 1 and was soon back on the field. Witt, who played almost every infield and outfield position at Kansas State and was impressive enough as a closer that his professional tryouts were as a pitcher, is already an integral part of the Aviators.
Through Sunday, he was hitting .255 with 15 RBI and 20 walks in 184 plate appearances. On July 6, he led off a game against the Southern Illinois Minors with a home run, and that hit was the difference in a 1-0 victory.
“I’m starting to get more comfortable at the plate,” he said.
This is not the first time Witt has shown the ability to come back from a layoff. He missed most of his junior season at Lake Zurich after developing a blood clot in his shoulder. The condition, called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, required a 10-hour surgery and several days in the hospital for recovery. The time away only reinforced Witt’s love of the sport.
Witt’s high school coach, Gary Simon, still remembers in detail how impressive Witt was as a senior.
“He went through a nightmare but he was a gutsy kid with a lot of fire in him,” Simon said. “He was one of the most talented players I’ve coached. He could play any position on the field.”
There wasn’t one part of baseball in which Witt didn’t excel.
“You could do a video on his bunting technique,” Simon said.
Many coaches stopped recruiting Witt when he was hurt, but Kansas State remained interested the entire time. In his senior season, Witt helped lead the Wildcats to their first regular season conference title in 80 years. Kansas State came up just one victory short of advancing to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
When he made the decision to start playing in Rockford, Witt’s high school teammates were thrilled for him. One of those teammates, Logan Matthews, watched Witt play in Rockford this past weekend.
“He enjoys the game so much,” Matthews said. “I remember playing baseball all the time and as much as I played, he played even more.”
Witt is still rounding into form after the layoff and is excited to see what type of progress he makes the rest of the season. He said he is committed to playing at least one additional full season.
“I want to have an offseason to train and work out and then see where it goes,” he said. “It’s [great] to be back [on the] field.”