RICHMOND, Va. -- University of Richmond pitcher Jack Buckley has changed the perspective of the enter Spider squad just by showing up.
Buckley is just one of 22 pitchers on Richmond baseball coach Tracy Woodson's roster.
Coach Woodson has more pitchers than usual this year, due to injuries that have hit that part of his team particularly hard.
"We're dipping into the young kids right now. With what happened with COVID, we've got three or four [pitchers who] are redshirt freshmen right now you try to get as much as you can," Woodson said.
One of the additions to this year's active roster is actually one of their most experienced players. Jack Buckley is a senior graduate student who pitched three years at Division three Franklin and Marshall before coming to the Spiders as a transfer.
Current Spiders assistant coach Nate Mulberg recruited Buckley out of high school and recommended him to Woodson.
"Nate loved the fire, how he competed," Woodson said. "He had put up good numbers in summer ball. You're facing a lot of D1 players then."
But Buckley didn't come without some challenges.
He missed the entire 2020 season after needing surgery on his throwing elbow. Little did anyone know then, that would be the least of his medical issues.
"He had not pitched well but he was pitching through the pain and a lump. He finally got it checked out," Woodson said.
In November 2020, Buckley was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He was told it was highly treatable but hearing you have cancer, regardless of the treatment, is something for which it's hard to prepare.
"The first thought with me was what's going to happen with baseball at that point?" Buckley said. "I had already missed a season due to Tommy John surgery and kind of thought I'd be looking at missing another one. Try not to read too much online for the worst case scenarios."
"We sat in the hallway and talked," Woodson said. "He said, 'Coach I've got this.' And I said, 'You're getting it taken care of. Baseball is secondary. You're going to have a family down the road. If you have kids, you're gonna want to be able to experience that and be a dad.'"
Buckley underwent the first of three surgeries in December 2020. He then underwent four rounds of chemotherapy in early 2021 — all during COVID. In an odd way, the pandemic was actually a good thing for Buckley because mask-wearing and regular testing of his teammates allowed him to be around them even during his treatment.
"I don't know if my doctor did that, but I was down here. It was nice to have something to look forward to, come down on an off week and see the guys play," he said.
Buckley had his final surgery in February 2022. He was told the normal recovery would be at least five months. He made it back for his first appearance in about five weeks, earning an ovation from both his teammates and his opponents.
"I went to the coaches and the umpire and said look, I'm just giving you a heads up that we're going to come out of the dugout and clap. You can do whatever you guys want to do, but we're not trying to show anybody up," Woodson said.
"Being in my first game action since 2019, four surgeries later. I didn't feel that comfortable out there. It was nice to be back but definitely, it was a bit strange," Buckley said.
The day before our interview, Buckley had his longest outing of the season. He pitched two and 1/3 innings against Norfolk State with three strikeouts and showed the form that both he and his team had been waiting for since his arrival.
"Yesterday actually felt like I've been myself for the first time on a mound since the 2019 season," he said. "My stuff was back to what it was like back then. My mindset was the same. I think yesterday was my real return to pitching."
Buckley's journey has given everyone in the program a new perspective on baseball's place in each of their lives. Buckley doesn't consider himself an inspirational figure, but he has laid out a blueprint for dealing with adversity that anyone can follow.
"There are a lot more things that are more important than baseball," Woodson said. "Baseball is a game. It's a game. Even my guys now, everything's fine with them, but they're in a slump. It's a game. You've gotta let it go. For him, there's so much more that he thinks about that we don't even know about."
"It kind of just shows you got to keep going. Get back up," he said. "There's not really a point to having a negative mindset about everything. It's just going to make things worse."
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