Pitchers end bright U careers

by Todd Zolecki

Ted Zrust and Mike Diebolt shared a moment in center field Sunday following the final game of their Gophers baseball careers. After five years for Zrust and four years for Diebolt, the two emerged as solid pitchers — Zrust as the dominating closer and Diebolt as the ace of the Gophers’ staff.
A few years ago, the two seemed destined to finish their careers mired in mediocrity. The Gophers almost cut Zrust after his sophomore season, and he thought about quitting on other occasions. Diebolt took years to overcome the denial of his diabetes, which he learned he had during the summer after his high school graduation. His priorities became clouded when he arrived at the University.
The two fought and overcame those personal battles, and they share a bond because of it. Both believe they are better people than when they walked onto campus as freshmen.
“Me and Teddy are pretty close,” Diebolt said. “We’re good friends. I don’t think it’s something we talk about between us, but it’s something that’s known. We each understand where we came from.”
Zrust finished the season 6-2 with a 2.19 earned run average. His counterpart had a 7-4 record, 3.99 ERA and 110 strikeouts, which broke Dave Winfield’s single-season strikeout record set in 1973. Diebolt broke the mark Sunday in the top of the eighth inning against David Eyman.
The numbers put up by Zrust make him a strong candidate for the team’s Most Valuable Player honors. He became the first pitcher out of the bullpen when an opposing team ripped a starter. He also came in at the end of the game to lock down a win.
Zrust chuckles when his name and MVP are mentioned in the same breath. During his first three years, he seemed to be the team’s least likely candidate.
“A couple years ago, if someone would have said I would be on the team (that would have been a surprise),” he said. “It was coming to the point where if I didn’t start making an impact or doing something, I was going to be gone.”
He struggled when Gophers pitching coach Mike Dee changed his delivery from the standard over-the-top style to a submarine-style. The change took years of work to master but was necessary if Zrust wanted to pitch at the collegiate level.
He redshirted his first season, pitched 2.2 innings his freshmen year and didn’t pitch his sophomore year before the team named him the most improved player after a solid junior season.
Dee is glad Zrust finished with success. He credits Zrust for making it all happen and, he added, it couldn’t have happened to a better person.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like him,” Dee said. “He worked summer camps for four years, and I swear I don’t know of one kid who didn’t like Teddy. He’s just a great person.”
Diebolt learned how to grow up in that span. He said he didn’t take anything seriously his first two years at Minnesota.
“I didn’t put too much time or concern into a lot of things,” he said. “I had to learn how to monitor my diabetes. I was just eating like a regular person, which I can’t. I was just blowing it off quite a bit.”
He didn’t have a moment of clarity, a vision or anything that set him straight. It was just a matter of wanting to be a success instead of barely getting by. He benefitted greatly. Diebolt hopes to find himself in the Major League Baseball draft in June.
“We had those early year struggles,” Zrust said. “It’s nice for us to go this way.”