In 1998, John Gouzd was a dominant senior pitcher at Fairmont Senior High School hoping to play baseball at West Virginia University. Now Gouzd is heading into his junior season at James Madison University and, if he's not drafted next year, looking forward to a start against WVU in 2002.
"I really wanted to go to WVU, but I don't think they wanted me as bad as I wanted to go there," Gouzd said. "At least that is the way it seemed to me."
Following the somewhat disappointing visit to WVU, the right-hander made a visit to JMU.
"I knew it was a pretty good school and then as soon as I saw the campus I fell in love with it, and they made a really, really nice offer," Gouzd said. "It was pretty hard to refuse, so I made an agreement that day to sign there the day I made my visit, and I have no regrets."
One of the deciding factors for Gouzd was the fact that the coaches expected him to play right away. Gouzd later discovered that opinion might have been part of an old recruiting angle
"Later in the fall I heard them say they didn't really expect me to come right in and play and that I was 'raw and needed work,'" Gouzd said. "I meant to ask them about that, but I never did."
Perhaps that was because Gouzd was out on the mound from the very beginning. His first college start in 1999 was against the University of Miami, which would go on to win the National Championship.
"They knocked me around the first inning, but after that I did pretty well," Gouzd said. "It wasn't one of my best games, but it was kind of exciting having my first start against the No. 1 team in the country."
That game was a microcosm of the season for the freshman.
There was success mixed with disappointment as the team struggled to one of the worst records in school history.
One bright spot came in a 4-3 win over William & Mary, in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, where he struck out 10. Another was his first career victory -- a six-hit, seven strikeout, no walk, complete game performance against St. Joseph's.
The most important lesson the freshman learned was that he couldn't just throw his high-80s fastball by people like in high school.
"If you get the ball over the plate and don't mix it up, they are going to hit it, no matter how hard you are throwing," he said.
As a sophomore, Gouzd dropped his ERA to 4.74, dropped his home run total from 15 to four and tossed the team's first complete game shutout in six years. He finished the season 6-4, but was much stronger the second half of the season after mastering his changeup.
Gouzd currently is home in Fairmont resting his arm and getting in shape for the season, but he is a little worried about the "tenderness" in his arm that kept him out of the Cape Cod League this summer.
"I'm still not sure what is going on with my arm right now," he said. "I had an MRI, but I didn't stay still and it came out blurry. I go back to the doctor on the 14th."
Gouzd is hoping he is healthy and continues to look forward to facing the Mountaineers as a senior, if he doesn't get a call in June.
If he does it may be tough to say no considering the fragile nature of the human body.
"I'd like to play professional baseball," he said. "There are a lot of pitchers that are one pitch away from an injury and being done with baseball. It just comes with the territory."
Sports writer Shawn Yonker can be reached at 626-1444.