He might have toed the rubber every fifth day, but Joe Bauserman's heart stayed in his locker.
In between a stellar prep career as a two-sport athlete and occupying his current spot on the Ohio State football team, Bauserman spent three years as a pitcher in the minor leagues. His last season came in 2006, when he suited up for the Hickory Crawdads, the single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But when Bauserman and his teammates would return from playing in such hot spots as Asheville, N.C., Hagerstown, Ind., and Lexington, Ky., Bauserman would grab something out of his locker to help pass the time with his teammates.
It was a football.
"Everybody's got something stupid in the minor leagues to pass the time because you're at the field for so long," Michael Crotta, a teammate of Bauserman's for a few weeks during the 2006 season, told BSB. "He'd bring a football out and the strength guys never liked it because they're afraid of people getting hurt but he'd be out there throwing passes to people and doing stuff like that."
That season, Bauserman started 21 games but finished with a 6-8 record and a 4.01 ERA. Along the way, he developed a case of shoulder tendonitis and had to be shut down in August for the remainder of the season.
Admitting that the grind of a full baseball season wears on everyone, Crotta said he could tell that Bauserman was missing the sport of football as well as the college experience he had skipped out on to play baseball.
"He was sitting there talking about how he wasn't always getting the fair shake and he was talking about, ‘I want to go back' and ‘I miss playing football,' " said Crotta, now a member of the Pirates' 40-man roster. "He'd always bring a football out and be throwing it around the outfield. You could obviously see that he missed it and that's where he wanted to be."
Ten months after Bauserman was shut down for the season, he was in Columbus as a walk-on member of the football team. A former three-star quarterback prospect from Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln, Bauserman had issued a verbal commitment to the Buckeyes in 2004 before being selected by the Pirates in the fourth round of that year's draft.
After coming to terms with the organization – including a provision that the Pirates would pay for his schooling should he opt to pursue his degree – Bauserman penned a letter to OSU fans explaining his decision to play baseball. A power pitcher who could hit 96 miles an hour with his fastball, Bauserman reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates and pitched in nine games.
Head coach Woody Hukye had no idea that Bauserman had thrown for more than 5,000 yards during his final two seasons as a quarterback.
"I was surprised when he left (the game)," Huyke said. "He quit out of the blue sky. A couple of years and that was it. He was a guy that had a very good arm. He could've pitched in the big leagues with the stuff that he had. We all thought he was a prospect at the time."
Bauserman progressed to low-A William Sport, where he compiled a 2.84 ERA and a 6-2 record.
"He was a power pitcher," said Todd Redmond, now a pitcher with the Gwinnett Braves who played with Bauserman in Williamsport and Hickory. "He threw his fastball. From what I remember he had a good fastball and a good breaking ball. He was definitely more of a strikeout guy and definitely a good player."
This fall, Bauserman has the opportunity to be the starting quarterback when the Buckeyes begin the 2011 season. Incumbent Terrelle Pryor is suspended for the first five games of the season, leaving a wide-open battle behind in his wake. Of the candidates, Bauserman – now a fifth-year senior – boasts the most overall experience.
When he arrived at OSU, Bauserman talked about simply wanting to give the sport a chance after the three-year layoff. After the spring game, he indicated that simply being on the roster was no longer good enough.
"You come here not to be the backup," he said. "You come here to play and eventually move on to the next level. If it's one game, two games, five games, I'll take what I can get."
Redmond, who said he has visited with Bauserman while Gwinnett played in Columbus, said it does not surprise him that his former teammate is in the mix to be the starter.
"He always was real hyped on watching games and waiting for football season to start," he said. "He'd say, ‘Man, I can't wait to go back up there and watch football games' and all that stuff. You could tell that he always had it on his mind."
"He always threw a football. From what I saw when he did throw a football, he threw it very well. He could definitely throw."