COLUMBIA — Welcome back!
Ryan Gebhart had been waiting all season to hear those words after he suffered a broken ankle during fall workouts. His return had been continually pushed back.
Gebhart thought he would be ready to start the season in February, but soreness during the preseason proved to be too much, and the injury took longer to heal. Several weeks have passed since, and Gebhart and the training staff decided to play it safe by not trying to have him play until he was at least 90 percent.
Gebhart, a sophomore outfielder on the Missouri baseball team, finally got to hear those magic words when he made his season debut in the Tigers' 4-3 loss to Oklahoma State on Sunday at Taylor Stadium.
Gebhart was the designated hitter, and his first at-bat resulted in one of the most unsettling situations in all of baseball.
With the bases loaded in the second inning, Gebhart came up for his first at-bat. He gave it his all, but he struck out swinging in his long-awaited return.
Gebhart said though it wasn’t an ideal position to return to, he was excited to see his name in the lineup.
“It was definitely tough,” Gebhart said. “My adrenaline was flowing, maybe too much. It’s one at-bat, and I know the guy behind me is going to pick me up.”
Unfortunately, this time the Tigers weren’t able to pick him up. Blake Brown struck out to follow Gebhart and the Tigers stranded the runners.
Although he hasn’t been able to play, Gebhart said he has enjoyed getting to watch his teammates. Watching them have success, only made him want to return more.
“Whenever an injury like that happens, you can either do two things,” Gebhart said. “You can either put your head down and give up, or you can fight back.”
When Gebhart was hurt, the Tigers didn’t feel the blow too badly because the other outfielders were filling in nicely. But recently, most of the younger outfielders have been struggling. Coach Tim Jamieson said Gebhart is almost ready to play in the field and Jamieson expects him to get a lot of at-bats in the near future.
“…No question we need some help, and he’s a guy that hopefully can provide a little bit of a spark,” Jamieson said.
Gebhart’s injury is especially tough to come back from since he is an outfielder and has to cover a lot of ground. He still is limping some, but he said he is not playing in pain.
Jamieson said he has little doubt that Gebhart is ready for the opportunity.
“He’s a very confident kid, in his own ability and confident in his ability to make good decisions and work hard,” Jamieson said. “He believes in himself, there’s no question about that. He’s happy for the opportunity. Probably wishes it would’ve been a little earlier.”
First baseman Aaron Senne said he was excited to see his teammate back.
“We expect him to go in there and treat him like he’s been there all season,” Senne said. “That’s why we put him in the lineup. He didn’t get it done that time, but he had a couple nice at-bats after that.”
Gebhart did make the most of his day with two base hits and a walk in his next three plate appearances.
Gebhart credits his return to a strong faith in God. He also said that knowing his teammates and coaches have confidence in him made it a lot easier to get back into the swing of things.
“I hadn’t been up to the plate in six months and they had confidence in me,” Gebhart said. “That says a lot right there.”
Missouri (19-16, 4-8 Big 12) still has not won a conference series this season. The Tigers play Kansas at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.