By Nate Edelman
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — After an extended absence, senior designated hitter/infielder Elijah Skipps is back for Cal Poly's stretch run of the season. In just 24 games, Skipps has a .313 batting average with four home runs and 21 RBIs.
Skipps was set back because of an injury in February.
"I got hurt in February, ruptured my radial head in my elbow," said Skipps. "I sat out for nine weeks and came back. The first game against Dartmouth, I reinjured it, and then I had to get a cortisone shot to end the season. So, just try to hang in there and play through it."
During the time Skipps was recovering, he relied heavily on Neal Mc Ivor, Cal Poly baseball's athletic trainer.
"It was me and Neal, me and Neal, every day for those nine weeks, trying to do anything to strengthen my arm to get back to the season."
Even though Skipps is back primarily as a DH just like he was last year, he had his eyes set on first base. "It would have been nice to play first. I DH'd last year. Same thing, elbow issue. It's not new to me, I'm kind of used to it. It's not that big of a transition for me. Yeah, there's an expectation to be on the field, but I try to find a way to impact the team other than hitting, like inside the dugout and what not."
Skipps has started at first base for the last five games due to a foot injury incurred by Kyle Marinconz, limiting the junior middle infielder to hitting duties only for the time being.
When Skipps came back from injury and started playing regularly April 14, he opened with a tear. Skipps had at least one hit in his first eight games back. In the first two games (both against UC Davis), Skipps hit two home runs and had six RBIs. His third home run came in the final game of Cal Poly's sweep against Long Beach State.
"I was seeing the ball well. My swing felt good. Everything felt good. Everything was clicking on all cylinders."
Skipps owns a .380 batting average in conference games only with 17 RBI in 15 games.
Skipps credits assistant coach Teddy Warrecker for recruiting him to come to Cal Poly. Before Cal Poly, Skipps had stops at the University of Arizona and Cypress College.
"Teddy reached out and saw me in my last series that I played at my junior college. He saw me throughout high school as well, but I kind of blew him off. I had a big head in high school and wanted to go to a bigger school. I ended up going to Arizona and found out it wasn't for me.
"Went to a JUCO, and this is kind of the perfect place for me. Not too far from home, not too close. Great scenery, great coaching. Coach Lee is one of the most famous coaches on the West Coast about hitting. It was perfect timing and it all worked itself out."
Because of Skipps' short stint at Arizona (he played in eight games for the Wildcats), he had an understanding that competition at Cal Poly would be tougher than junior college. Skipps also didn't have any challenges making friends on the team.
"I was coming in understanding that competition is a tick better. Just kind of figuring out how to hit pitching. When it comes to coming onto this team, it's the same thing. You're playing baseball with a bunch of guys who love the game as much as you do. So that was an easy transition."
Skipps' academic transition was easy as well, saying that school is all about discipline and that it is about applying yourself. Even though the transition was easy for Skipps, he understands that it may not be easy for the large amount of freshmen on the team.
"As the older guys, we knew the majority of the team are freshmen. We knew that they were going to be nervous. We were freshmen at one point as well. You know the nerves, you know how hard it is to play in front of a new coach. We told them we are always here for you, we always offer advice as much as possible. They can come to us for anything that they want. We give them rides everywhere. We are at their disposal."
Skipps was excited about his last Blue-Green Rivalry matchup against UC Santa Barbara — he hit a pair of three-run home runs in the finale last year — and knocked in two runs with a double to cap a four-run first-inning rally Friday night. Cal Poly went on to sweep the Gauchos for the third straight year.
"Neither the freshman, sophomore nor the junior class has lost to UC Santa Barbara. It's tilted our way."
Skipps jokingly said that his goal this season is to hit more home runs this year than junior catcher Nick Meyer has hit in his three-year Mustang career.
"I'm trying to hit more home runs than Meyer did in his career," said Skipps. "He has three in his whole career."
Skipps, who hit a grand slam in the UC Davis series, hit No. 4 two weeks ago, a game-winner against UC Irvine. Meyer hit four long fly balls to left-center field in the UC Santa Barbara series, but all were caught. He was robbed of a fourth double in the series when Tommy Jew made a sensational diving catch Sunday.
After the season ends, Skipps said he wants to play professionally but understands it might not be in his future. "If I get drafted, I get drafted. If not, I'll figure something out from there. The top priority is to play professionally. If not, it wasn't in my cards and I'll figure it out from there."
The Major League Baseball Draft is scheduled for June 4-6 in Secaucus, N.J. If Skipps doesn't get drafted, the business administration major is looking to connect with Cal Poly's alumni system and go from there.
Nate Edelman is a senior journalism major from Agoura Hills, Calif.