U pitcher’s presence deceiving

by Sarah Mitchell

Gophers pitcher Frank Wagner comes across as a rough personality, but his teammates say he has almost mastered the art of deception.
“He’s just a big teddy bear,” Gophers sophomore Josh Holthaus said. “He looks tough, but he’s not.”
When the 6-foot-2, 215-pound reliever from Miles City, Mont., takes the mound, he looks intimidating. Thirty-two strike outs through less than 39 innings of play adds to Wagner’s physical presence.
But once again, its Wagner’s deception at work. The junior isn’t as imposing as his numbers indicate.
“I’ll never forget the day at practice when Frank and I had a long talk and he told me things that I never realized,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “I never realized that Frank did doubt whether or not he belonged here. I tried to convince him that he could be successful at this level.”
Based on Wagner’s high school career, Anderson has reason to believe. Wagner amassed a 15-3 record with a 1.18 ERA and struck out 194 in 130.1 innings.
In his first year with the Gophers, Wagner experienced the typical freshman problems, posting a 12.21 ERA through 14 innings. But the southpaw has taken what he calls “leaps and bounds” since 1997. And despite an inconsistent start to this season, he is where he expected to be.
“I wasn’t throwing the way I’d hoped to. Sometimes I go out on the mound and I’m scared, but that comes from competition,” Wagner said. “That’s how you know you’re alive.”
The rush of competing ends with the thrill of victory or the shock of defeat. This season Wagner has had an equal amount of both.
In 18 relief appearances, Wagner has earned a 4-3 record. After being effective at Indiana two weekends ago (Wagner struck out three of the seven batters he faced in the Gophers’ 11-10 loss), Wagner’s performance fell short against Illinois last Friday. The reliever allowed four hits and three earned runs in 3.2 innings and Minnesota was defeated 7-6.
But Wagner knows it takes a little of both to make a good pitcher.
“Positive performances build that confidence, but you have to realize that just one bad outing shatters the things you’ve worked up to,” Wagner said. “The only way to show that you’ve become a good player is to bounce back from that setback.”
As the Gophers take Siebert Field against Northwestern this weekend, Wagner welcomes the opportunity to turn last weekend’s numbers around. But as Minnesota starters work to get the most out their arms, Wagner and the rest of the Gophers bullpen are lucky to see any work.
This is just a typical Big Ten series for the reliever.
“As a reliever, you never know. It’s a constant battle of trying to keep your mind on the game,” Wagner said. “You enjoy being here, but you’re kidding yourself if you say that you’re going to be totally focused on the game for nine full innings.”
These lapses are filled with joking amongst what Wagner said is his newest family — his teammates. Wagner credits Anderson for recruiting a compatible group of players.
“Obviously you can’t get 45 guys who are going to be best friends, but if you can get 45 guys that enjoy being with each other, that’s even better,” Wagner said. “Nobody on the team wants to kill one another. It’s like a playground.”
With Minnesota looking to gain ground on conference-leading Ohio State in its last two conference series, Anderson might have to pull Wagner away from the pranks and put him on the mound during a game-threatening situation.
But Anderson won’t doubt the decision to do so. He knows the real Wagner.
“I’m real impressed with Frank,” Anderson said. “He comes from a real small town in Montana and he just got in his pickup truck and drove out here. He’s always been to me a mature young man. Very bright. Very personable.”