Missouri baseball player prepares to move on to medical school

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 | 8:07 p.m. CDT
Andreas Plackis, a redshirt junior on the Missouri baseball team, will give up his last year of eligibility to attend the medical school at the MU School of Medicine.

COLUMBIA — Andreas Plackis had to face his baseball coaches and tell them that he wouldn't be playing another season.

"I talked to my coaches afterwards about my interview," he said. "They asked me that same question, and I think that's when it really hit me."

Wednesday's game

Missouri State (34-14)
at Missouri (25-22)

WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Taylor Stadium
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM

The Tigers beat the Bears 4-3 in 11 innings in a game hosted by Missouri State on April 25 at Hammons Field in Springfield.

Tigers first baseman Andreas Plackis has a nine-game hitting streak entering Wednesday's game, the sixth-best active streak in the Big 12. During the past 12 games, Plackis is hitting a team-best .341 with four extra-base hits (.455 slugging) for six RBIs and seven runs scored.

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He had been prepared for the medical school interviewers to ask him whether he wanted to play out his final year of college baseball eligibility. It didn't make him any less nervous to tell his coaches that he would be giving up the sport to pursue his lifelong goal of attending medical school.

Plackis said his coaches never tried to change his mind. 

"They were surprisingly encouraging about this entire process," he said. "They know people go on to their own paths in life."

Plackis, a redshirt junior on the Missouri baseball team, knew that the time commitment required to be a medical student would make the school hesitant to admit a Division I baseball player. 

After deciding to forgo his last year of eligibility, he will begin studies at the MU School of Medicine in the fall. 

While Plackis has enjoyed late-season success on the baseball field, he said he is at peace with his decision as he prepares to graduate and move on to the next phase of his academic career.

"For me, I know that there's medical school beyond sports, so that was always a goal of mine to really pursue that area wholeheartedly because I know it's my future," Plackis said. "If I don't do well enough in the academic side, then there's no future for me the way I wish it could be." 

In reality, it was a decision he had first considered six years ago, when Plackis suffered his first serious sports-related injury.

"When he was 16, he had some injuries, and he realized that at any point in his life, he could become injured to the point where he would not be able to play ball anymore," Plackis' mother, Cindy Wiederholt, said. "Up to that point, he was real serious, like, 'Maybe I want to make a career out of this' serious.

"He realized that he needed to rethink committing to baseball as something to get him where he wants to go in life." 

A lifelong ambition

Plackis said he has wanted to be a doctor since he "was a little kid." His exposure to the profession started early when his mother, a former emergency room physician, would tell him stories of her experiences on the job. 

"He didn't really see me at work much, but whenever I'd be at an event or somebody would be hurt or something would happen, of course I'd be the one that would be there to help somebody out," Wiederholt said. 

While other parents would send their kids to the doctor after an injury, Wiederholt was able to treat her own children. When Plackis was 3, he split his lip open. Instead of taking him in for stitches, his mother taped his lip five times a day until it started to heal. 

After Plackis left home to attend MU, he continued to interact with doctors on a regular basis when a string of injuries kept him off the baseball field. 

"Through that process, sitting in front of doctors and being able to see what they did for me, it almost kind of opened my eyes and gave me a little bit of passion because of the impact they had on me," he said. "Me having the skill set to possibly be able to do that for someone in the future, I was really excited about choosing that career path."

An unexpected hobby

While medical careers run in the family, baseball was something Plackis decided to pursue on his own. No one in their family had ever played baseball, his mother said. 

When he was 14, Plackis asked his mother if he could begin formal baseball training. Wiederholt, who was retired and had been a single mother, wanted to make sure it would be a sound financial commitment.

She had Plackis take a psychological test called the Athletic Desire Index to make sure that he was mentally committed and qualified enough to excel in the sport. 

"He scored, like, off the charts on this test, in emotional toughness and commitment and mental toughness," Wiederholt said. "(The psychologist) said, 'These are very unusual scores for a 14 year old.'"

Wiederholt told her son he could begin training and started to learn more about the game. For years, she would carry around a booklet about the rules of baseball in her purse when attending Plackis' games and relied on the mothers of other baseball families to explain things to her. 

When Plackis wanted new training equipment, he would save up allowance money and do extra chores and babysitting. When Wiederholt became the field operations director at his high school, she got keys to the baseball training facility, and she would pitch to her son from behind the screen in the indoor batting cages.

Plackis was born in Texas, spent most of his life in Seattle, and moved to St. Charles halfway through high school. In 2008, he moved to Columbia to begin college on a baseball scholarship. 

Although Plackis' medical ambitions don't surprise her, watching him develop into a college baseball player has been a surreal experience for Wiederholt. 

"For me to see him succeed at this level in a Division I program, I don't know if it's so much pride as it is awe," Wiederholt said. "I'm in awe of it because it's so unexpected and it's so mysterious."

Success on the diamond

Plackis began the year as Missouri's starting first baseman, but a hitting slump took him out of the lineup. He sat on the bench until late April, when Missouri coach Tim Jamieson gave him another chance after sophomore Mike McGraw suffered an injury.

In his first game back against Kansas State, Plackis went 3-for-3 with two RBIs. In the six games since, he has been one of the Tigers' most consistent hitters. 

"Starting the year, I'm a senior, and I wanted to do big things this year," Plackis said. "I wanted such a huge year, and I was trying so hard at the plate. That almost worked against me because I was lunging out at pitches."

Plackis' coach said his recent success is a testament to his concentration. 

"The great thing about Plackis is he always works hard, he's always ready," Jamieson said. "Even if it's a month and a half between starts, two months between starts, he'll be ready tonight."

Plackis said his time on the bench was a character-building experience. 

"When I go out there now, because I sat on the bench so much, I feel like I have a greater appreciation for the time out there," he said. "Even if I get out, it's not the end of the world, because I'm just thankful to be out there."

Balancing school and sports

While Plackis has worked toward success on the field, his time management skills have helped him succeed in the classroom.

When Plackis was a redshirt freshman, he traveled with the baseball team to a series at Kansas State because the team needed a bullpen catcher. Wiederholt made the trip to Manhattan and invited her son out for dinner after the game.

"He said, 'I can't, I've got two tests on Monday, but I'm going to stay in my room and you can bring me a sandwich,'" Wiederholt said. 

Sure enough, when Wiederholt found his hotel room, Plackis was sitting with his computer, studying. His teammates were nowhere to be found.

Plackis said playing for the baseball team has served as extra motivation to excel in school. 

"Our coaches really push for both sides, because if I don't work on my academics, then I can't play sports, because I have to maintain my GPA," he said. 

Plackis' dedication was recognized by the university in February, when he was named to the Mizzou '39 as an outstanding senior. 

Learning to mentor 

As he was learning to handle the stress of his competing commitments, Plackis turned to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. During his freshman year, former Missouri pitcher Kyle Gibson took him under his wing and helped him adjust to the life of a student-athlete. 

As a senior, Plackis has become a leader in the organization, taking on the role of a mentor. Every week, he meets with Case Munson and Jake Ivory, two freshmen on the baseball team, and they go through a spiritual book they received from a speaker earlier in the year.

"It's been cool to try to do that with our freshman a little bit, just because you're a senior, and they automatically look up to you a little bit," Plackis said. "You have a choice whether you want to be that positive example or the one that gets them a little bit lost."

Munson said the sessions have helped him stay focused throughout his first year on the team.

"He's the leader of FCA so we go to FCA and tag along," Munson said. "He's really been helping us out, giving us a bit of guidance, like, 'Hey, you guys, relax. Your time will come. God has a plan.'"

Plackis said he hopes his ability to relate to the struggles of others will help him deal with patients. 

His mother, a seasoned veteran in the medical field, thinks his compassion will give him a wonderful bedside manner.

"He has this way about him that calms people down," she said. "It's his temperament. If somebody's anxious or nervous and they hang around him for five minutes, they come away a lot calmer."

Wiederholt said that trait, along with his determination and kind-heartedness, will help Plackis succeed as he begins medical school. 

"I guess I would have to say the path to medical school, for me to watch him do that, I was always so sure that he would be able to do that," she said. "When he decided, I had no doubt he could do this."

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.

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