PORTSMOUTH — Throughout his baseball career, Kyle Wisniewski has always had a great deal of arm talent.
The special part about Wisniewski, however, is that the work ethic and the character to match that talent — both on and off of the field — is right there along with his talent.
A rangy talent who had to overcome Tommy John surgery in 2019, Wisniewski — in his four starts during the 2020 season — showed off the hard work that has become a staple of the Shawnee State baseball program by posting a rock solid 2.86 ERA and striking out 21 batters in 22 innings pitched.
Beyond getting back into a groove on the mound, and a boost in confidence along with it during the 2020 season, Wisniewski was simply glad to be healthy — because he can compete alongside the very teammates that have given him the confidence to continue pitching at a high level while representing the institution that he now calls home.
“To be a part of this program for the past three years has been a great honor,” Wisniewski said. “It’s great representing the school out on the baseball field, and on top of that, I’ve made some of the greatest friendships that will last a lifetime.”
From the outset, Wisniewski proved to be an effective pitcher that could throw multiple pitches for strikes.
A three-year starter inside the pitching rotation at Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Wisniewski’s rise as a pitcher coincided with the marked improvement that the Bruins began establishing as a program.
As a sophomore, the 6-5 standout — against OHSAA Division I and Division II competition in the stacked North Coast League (NCL) Blue Division — stood out early, posting a stout 4-1 record while striking out 28 batters and walking only six for a 4.67-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30-and-two-thirds innings.
The season, which resulted in a 1.59 ERA for the sophomore, was followed by a junior year where Wisniewski maintained strong consistency on the hill.
With a 5-2 record, a 1.98 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 50 innings pitched as a junior, the pitching product — who improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to an outstanding 7.8-to-1 during the 2016 season — helped lead Padua Franciscan to the Division II, Region 6 finals, where the Bruins lost by a scant two-run count to the eventual OHSAA Division II state champions Defiance (7-5).
Defiance finished the year 29-2, and was not only ranked No. 1 overall in Ohio by MaxPreps, but ranked as the 85th-best team in the country.
As a senior in 2017, Wisniewski kept up his level of consistency.
Following a strong summer where he helped lead the Stallions Baseball Club to a 28-11-2 record, Wisniewski continued to maintain his production by posting a strong 7-1 record with a 2.05 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 58 innings of work.
His production allowed Padua Franciscan to collect its second consecutive Division II Parma district championship and a Division II, Region 6 semifinal appearance in Bowling Green once more.
“I was given a great opportunity from my freshman year at Padua Franciscan onward,” Wisniewski said. “(Head coach) Ken Ortiz put in a very strong situation there, to not only learn from success but learn from failure as well. That prepared me for what I was getting myself into moving into college.”
With those stats against top-notch competition, along with a 6-5 frame and a mid-80s fastball, Wisniewski’s skills were easy to see.
However, while most colleges slept on the kind of talent that the Northeastern Ohio native had, Shawnee State wasn’t one of those programs.
“I actually got a call when I was in the middle of my recruiting process from (Phil) Butler,” Wisniewski said. “Immediately, him and I had a good first impression of each other. From talking to him, I knew that I wanted to come down, see the campus, and meet him. Once I met the team and became a part of the program, Casey was my catcher during my freshman year, so Casey and I developed a great relationship to where he could trust me when I’m pitching and I could trust that he was going to put me in the best positions to succeed.”
Despite the three-hour, 45-minute drive from Padua Franciscan to Shawnee State, the culture around the school — in addition to the experience that his teammates and coaches were able to offer — made the Bears an easy sell.
“From the start, it was a good, small, homey feel,” Wisniewski said of SSU. “I just felt very accepted by everybody that I talked to. The guys on the team were really great guys to meet. It was something where, by the time that I left campus that day, I knew Shawnee State was going to be the place that I wanted to be for four years.”
His enthusiasm in his future college fit showed as Wisniewski took the mound for his opening pair of contests.
In his first appearance against Indiana Wesleyan, Wisniewski threw five innings of five-hit baseball while striking out eight, walking two and surrendering just two earned runs in a 5-3 SSU victory. ‘
The freshman followed that great performance with a six-inning, one-run gem against William Penn (Iowa), striking out five, walking none and giving up just two hits while throwing an efficient 73 pitches in a 5-2 victory.
Those performances firmly established Wisniewski as a future standout — and the staff’s ace.
When the Mid-South Conference Tournament came around, SSU put Wisniewski on the mound to start against No. 21 Campbellsville — a tremendous accomplishment for any player, let alone a freshman.
To this day, it’s Wisniewski’s favorite memory as a baseball player.
The summer of 2018 continued to be rewarding for Wisniewski.
Butler, the coach who initially reached out to him, was given the head coaching spot at Shawnee State, and Wisniewski — who appeared in several contests for the Southern Ohio Copperheads — got to revel with Butler as the former’s contributions as a player and the latter’s leadership as a coach led to the Copperheads posting their best overall record as a team (35-10) and winning the Great Lakes Collegiate Summer League (GLCSL) championship for the first time in the history of the organization.
“It was great,” Wisniewski said. “During that time period, we learned that Phil would be the head coach for the following year, so it was nice to get his coaching experience firsthand to see what the next few years were going to be like. The summer of 2018 was a lot of fun and very rewarding.”
From an individual standpoint, however, 2019 didn’t hold that same type of joy.
After only going two innings against Rochester (Mich.) during his second outing of the year, Wisniewski had to undergo Tommy John surgery — and miss the rest of the season as a result.
He was only able to pitch seven innings on the year.
These struggles, understandably, created doubt in Wisniewski’s mind if he could get the job done as a college pitcher.
However, the same team that supported him when he first made his visit to SSU as a promising newcomer proved to offer that same support, and then some, as Wisniewski went through one of the toughest moments of his career.
“There were a lot of times where I thought that I couldn’t come back to the level that I was at, or my confidence was really low,” Wisniewski said. “However, these guys kept pushing me and kept telling me positive things to get me back to where I could be. They always knew that I could get back, they just wanted to make sure that I believed that I could do it myself. Those guys having my back during that time period helped me out a great deal.”
On Feb. 15, Wisniewski made his return to the diamond in a successful fashion.
In a four-inning start, Wisniewski struck out seven of the 16 batters he faced while giving up just one earned run against Montreat (N.C.), giving the Bears a chance to win until the Cavaliers answered with two runs in the bottom of the seventh frame to win the non-conference battle in walkoff fashion.
In his next appearance against Milligan, the 6-5 standout struck out five batters of the 19 he faced and only allowed one earned run again, and added in yet another gem in his third start against Concordia, throwing a seven-inning six-hitter in a game that the Bears dropped by a scant 2-0 count in eight innings.
While the win-loss record may not have been ideal, Wisniewski was back, competing with the teammates who have stood by him through all of his trials and tribulations as a player.
“It’s a big bond of trust with those guys,” Wisniewski said of his teammates. “I know that some days, I don’t have my stuff completely, and some days, I do. However, every time I go up on that mound, I know that the guys behind me and in the dugout are going to have my back and give everything they’ve got to help us win.”
In between all of the work that he’s put in as an athlete, including his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Wisniewski has continued to maintain his high academic standards in the classroom.
Overall, Wisniewski has a 3.58 GPA as a business adminstration major — and is on track to have over 90 hours of academic credit all coming prior to his 21st birthday.
“Being an athlete has actually helped me out academically, I believe,” Wisniewski said. “It’s taught me organization. I know that if I don’t stay on top of my grades in the classroom, I’m not going to be able to perform as well out on the field when I’m out there pitching. It keeps me out of trouble and keeps my mind right.”
While Wisniewski holds plenty of promise himself on both the baseball diamond and in the classroom, he’s just as excited for the promise that his team has to offer on the field in 2021.
With just four seniors on the 2020 version of the unit prior to the cancellation of the remainder of the schedule in mid-March that resulted in the NAIA restoring a year of eligibility to spring sports student-athletes, it’s clear that Shawnee State has a great chance to move up the ladder — both in the MSC standings as well as against counterparts across a national scale.
“I was getting more excited to see what we could do,” Wisniewski said. “Our record didn’t show it, but we were turning the corner as a program. We’re going to have a good pitching staff around, and the vast majority of our bats are coming back, so we really have a chance to make some noise and show, in all facets, that we are turning a corner. I believe that we can be a very dangerous team in the Mid-South Conference.”