Baseball is a cruel sport. No one denies this. At each ascending level, the game gets harder, exposing those who can’t keep up. A player who excels at single-A ball often falls flat on his face when he reaches double-A or triple-A. A can’t miss prospect can tear up the minor leagues and fail at every chance he gets in the big leagues. It’s happened since the beginning of the sport, and it will continue to happen.
Sometimes, an injury takes a player down, and injuries in baseball seem to cause more casualties than any other sport, especially if an injury happens to a pitcher. This is exactly what happened to KU star closer Don Czyz.
The Blue Valley High School graduate came to Kansas in 2002 and started playing baseball for the Jayhawks in the spring of 2003. Over his time with Kansas, he compiled some pretty nice statistics. In his four years at KU, Czyz compiled a 13-9 record and an ERA of 3.36. He struck out 200 batters and walked 78. Over the four years, he racked up 30 career saves.
His career year came in his senior year of 2006. That season, he established himself as the premier closer in the Big 12 conference as well as one of the best in the country. He compiled a perfect 6-0 record and a tiny 1.56 ERA. In that amazing 2006 season, Czyz saved 19 games, a KU record.
He was rewarded for his efforts with a Big 12 Pitcher of the Week award in February of 2006 (he also won that same award in May 2005), and a place on the first team All-Big 12 team after the season. He also helped the Jayhawks to their first and only Big 12 conference tournament victory in 2006.
He wasn’t done taking home the post-season individual award however. Czyz was named to three different first-team All-American lists (Lousiville Slugger, National College Baseball Writers Association, and Pro-Line) after that magnificent 2006 campaign. His season ended by being drafted by the Florida Marlins in the seventh round of the amateur draft.
(Check out an interview that a fledgling Rock Chalk Talk conducted with Don Czyz shortly after he started his pro career. Link here)
Czyz spent the 2006 season with Jamestown of the New York-Pennsylvania League, a low A affiliate of the Marlins. He came on exclusively as a relief pitcher and boasted a 3-1 record, although his ERA was a little high at 4.91.
Czyz spent the next two seasons in Greensboro, North Carolina, the high A affiliate within the Marlins organization. He pitched in 47 games in 2007 and struck out 72 while only issuing 15 walks. His ERA had dipped slightly, but it was evident to see that he wasn’t having a smooth transition from college to the professional ranks. In 2008, after making just 19 appearances, he tore his triceps and decided to give up baseball.
Since then, Czyz has returned to KU, completed his degree, and he now works as a businessman in Kansas City.