Bauk headed to Appalachian State
SALISBURY — Empsy Thompson has coached hundreds of baseball games and Eric Tyler has probably played in a thousand.
They both swear it was the best play they’ve ever seen. This story is about the guy who made it.
It was the summer of 2011, and the South Charlotte Panthers were one of 72 elite showcase teams gathered in Jupiter, Fla., to compete in the USA Baseball 16-under national championships.
The Panthers survived pool play, won two more games, then went up against FTB Mizuno out of Kissimmee, Fla.,in a quarterfinal. The Panthers were clinging to a one-run lead late. Mizuno had a runner at second base.
Next came a long drive to the right-center gap, a sure double or maybe a triple. Except Brian Bauk was playing center field.
Bauk chased that ball down, a pretty remarkable feat in itself, but what happened next became legendary. Bauk immediately whirled and fired a strike to third base, and the surprised runner who had tagged up at second was out — by a lot.
“To be able to run that ball down, and then to be able to make a throw like that, it was just amazing to watch,” said Tyler, South Rowan’s senior catcher and an East Carolina signee. “That one play said it all about what kind of athlete Brian is. We were so fired up we came in and 10-run-ruled those guys.”
A dozen years ago, Salisbury coach Scott Maddox figured he might have something a little different in Bauk. Maddox, Bauk’s father, Mike, and assistant T.I. Honeycutt were erecting a batting cage at the school, and Maddox discovered a kid hiding in a box with the cage parts. That kid was Brian Bauk.
On Monday in the school library, Maddox watched the grown-up version of that kid, now a solid 6-foot, 180 pounds, sign with Appalachian State’s baseball program.
It was a pretty big deal. Lots of black and gold balloons and cake and lots of teammates from two sports.
Even Paul Woodson, the mayor, showed up to shake Bauk’s hand.
And so did Duke Hall of Famer Jerry Barger, one of the city’s all-time greats.
“That kid kept me awake a lot of nights,” Barger explained with a laugh. “I could hear him hitting with his dad,”
How good a baseball player is Bauk, a lefty-hitting outfielder and a right-handed pitcher?
“Put it this way, Maddox said. “When Brian was out (from surgery following a football injury) at the start of last season, we go 0-8. He comes back and we finish in second place. He’s probably the most talented player as far as being both a pitcher and a fielder that I’ve coached here. As far as just hating to lose, he’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever coached. He always wants to be that guy who wins the game or lose it. He wants it in his hands.”
Bauk has started for Salisbury’s baseball team since he was a freshman. His teams haven’t been great, but he’s won 12 games on the mound while striking out 157. At the plate, he’s produced 65 runs, 74 hits, 31 steals and batting averages that are trending in the right direction — .317, 353 and .424.
Former Appalachian State coach Chris Pollard recruited Bauk avidly, but then Pollard was hired by Duke.
Pollard still had some interest in making Bauk a Blue Devil, but Bauk, a major UNC fan, would prefer to go anywhere on this planet than Duke.
Appalachian dropped out of the picture for a long time, but Bauk, who has high grades, had plenty of other suitors.
“Playing with the South Charlotte Panthers really helped get my name out there,” Bauk said.
UNC, East Carolina, UNC Wilmington and Charlotte were all in the picture. Charlotte and UNC Wilmington made official offers.
Also offering was another school that Bauk considered — Catawba. Bauk’s father, Mike, played at Catawba, and Bauk really enjoyed playing for Catawba coach Jim Gantt this summer when he made his debut for Gantt’s Rowan County American Legion team. Bauk won three times on the mound, batted .281 and stole 20 bases in 40 Legion games while displaying game-changing speed defensively and on the bases.
“Brian did seriously consider Catawba, and that shows how level-headed he is,” Maddox said. “He wasn’t just looking to grab that offer from the biggest school that recruited him. He was trying to find the right fit.”
Appalachian and its new head coach Billy Jones got back in the picture shortly after Bauk shined in a fall camp.
“I hadn’t heard from Appalachian in a long time, and the new coaches really didn’t know me, ” Bauk said. “It was just a one-day camp, but they offered me right after that.”
Maddox said that Jones called him after seeing Bauk for the first time. He said Bauk really looked good and wondered if he had any chance to get him.
Maddox explained that Appalachian had once been at the top of Bauk’s list. Not long after that, the Mountaineers returned to the forefront.
“I checked out a lot of difference places,” Bauk said. “None of them really felt right except Appalachian.”
Appalachian is getting a tremendous athlete. Bauk hasn’t hit with much power yet, but that could arrive at any time because he’s still getting bigger.
His arm strength and speed are exceptional. Even in Division I, he has a chance to be a rare two-way player. If he has to choose, he’d rather be an outfielder because he’ll go crazy waiting to pitch once a week.
“Appalachian recruited me as an outfielder,” Bauk said. “They haven’t said yes or no as far as pitching. They’re going to wait to see me pitch.”
A quarterback on the gridiron, Bauk just finished a football season in which he was one of the key figures in Salisbury reaching the 2AA Western Regional final.
He rushed for 1,275 yards as a senior, a county record for quarterbacks, and he accounted for 27 touchdowns rushing and passing.
“Football was a lot of fun, and I’m really going to miss it,” Bauk said. “But I never even played football until high school. Baseball was my first love all along.”
Salisbury football coach Joe Pinyan is an Appalachian state alum, so he was pleased with Bauk’s choice.
“We’ve had a ton of talented athletes here, but Brian is right up there as far as being able to do many things well,” Pinyan said. “He’s so competitive that it won’t surprise me if he plays early in college. Just tell him he can’t do something, and he’s going to show you that he can.”