When a student-athlete makes the difficult decision to transfer to another program, they must mentally prepare for having to sit out a season. University of Rhode Island starting pitcher Stephen Peterson prepared to sit out a year after leaving Marist, but then found himself out longer than he ever expected.
“I knew when I transferred, I would have to stay out that year,” the now-redshirt senior Peterson reflected on the 2009 season, the year NCAA guidelines forced him to watch on the sidelines due to his transfer. “I was prepared for that. I had some things to work on myself, and I was going to take that time to do so. I wasn’t just going to sit there, I was going to use that time to get better and get ready to contribute in 2010.”
After making great strides in his pitching during the year he sat out, the Danvers, Massachusetts native took his refined skills to summer ball with the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL.)
“I was having a great summer. I was pitching well, really hitting a good stride,” the left-hander said of his summer with the Gulls. Peterson pitched the Gulls through the semifinal round of the NECBL championship (which they won), but found out soon after that he would need Tommy John surgery. After an entire collegiate season out of the game already, the lengthy rehabilitation and unknowns that the surgery presented could have derailed Peterson’s college pitching plans. Peterson, however, saw it as just one more obstacle to persevere through.
“I remember vividly the morning after the Tommy John surgery. Dr. (James) Andrews had done my surgery, and I was down in his facility down South. That morning, I went straight to rehab, and there were all of these big league guys around me, guys who had the same surgery as I did. I saw them working hard, and I just joined right in. I wasn’t going to take a break, or be sad, or get down on myself. This was just going to be another step in the process, and I was going to have to work hard at coming back.”
Key to Peterson’s recovery was keeping his passion for baseball at the forefront. “I never lost that love of the game. This injury put my back up against the wall, and I was going to have to fight. You always have those around you who whisper, ‘He’s not going to come back, He’s not going to make it,’ and I wanted to prove them wrong. I have overcome another obstacle before by transferring. I was going to overcome this injury too.”
After sitting out yet another season, Peterson prepared to return to the lineup during fall ball. He finally started his first collegiate game since 2008 and his first for URI on February 20th against McNeese State, a 11-5 loss. Peterson’s first three starts (including at #1 ranked Florida) were losses, but he didn’t panic.
“My maturity definitely helped. After those first couple losses, I knew I had to do something. I think I took those first two weeks to heat up. I didn’t let myself get down. I talked to my coaches and my teammates, and I focused on just improving and looking at things little by little.”
He had a sense things would settle down heading into URI’s March 20th 3-2 win against the College of Charleston, which Peterson points to as his favorite game of the season so far. “I knew I was getting the ball Sunday against the College of Charleston. I knew if we got out of there taking two out of three in this tournament, against these ranked teams, it would bode well for our team down the stretch.
“I gave up two early on in the first inning, but after that I got into a groove. I don’t think that groove has left. I’ve just built on that from then on. I felt I was coming into my own, and I had finally put everything behind me. It was a complete game for everybody. We learned what we had inside us as a team, and (the game) had us excited for entering Atlantic-10 play and then opening up our home season.”
Since the College of Charleston game, Peterson took a no-decision against Charlotte, but then started on a roll in league play. He has gone 6-0 in league play, and is the only pitcher in Atlantic-10 to be undefeated. After URI’s May 8th 4-1 win against UMass, Peterson struck out 10 batters, having only allowed five runs in his last 35 innings pitched.
Peterson also gives a lot of credit to his teammates, many of whom look to him as a leader in the clubhouse. “To be honest, these guys have taken me in like I came in three years ago with all of them. It doesn’t matter to them that I transferred or couldn’t play. We’re all working towards the same goal, and it is really refreshing to be around a team like that, where we aren’t all looking for individual honors. We honestly all root for each other.”
For Peterson, his hot streak and fit in this season’s URI lineup has only reaffirmed his dedication during his two year layoff. “I worked my butt off to get where I am right now. To be honest, I feel better than I ever have and I am pitching better than I ever have.”