There is no way to quantify an athlete’s competitiveness, no way to measure the temperature burning inside of him.
Look closely, though, and there are hints. University of Toledo pitching coach Josh Bradford saw something special while scouting a few years ago. A left-handed pitcher was amped, pacing toward home plate between pitches to hurriedly receive the ball from his catcher.
Ryan Wilkinson is still that guy, a fiery model of competitiveness on a baseball team in need of a big weekend to keep its season alive.
“That’s what sets him apart from everybody else,” Bradford said. “He refuses to lose, basically.”
Wilkinson, a senior on his way to Mid-American Conference accolades for the third year in a row, will be on the mound today to kick off a pivotal home series with Eastern Michigan. Positioned ninth in the league standings, the Rockets (21-30, 11-14) must jump one spot in the next three days to qualify for the MAC tournament. For that to happen, Wilkinson surmises, “we definitely have to win the series” against an EMU team with the fewest league wins of any MAC team. Toledo trails Akron and Northern Illinois by one game in the loss column.
“You want to start out the series right, especially in a big weekend series like this,” Wilkinson said.
Today’s contest is set for 3:05 p.m. at Scott Park. Should Wilkinson add the Eagles to the MAC teams that he’s dissected of late, Toledo should inch closer to making the tournament for a sixth straight year.
In four starts, Wilkinson has surrendered just two runs for a 0.56 ERA in 32 innings. He’s won three of his starts, a streak interrupted on April 25 despite his lasting eight full innings in a 1-0 setback to Miami. Toledo’s lineup, with only one regular batting better than .300 this season, managed just two hits that day.
Wilkinson’s finest effort came last Saturday in a three-hit shutout for a 1-0 series opening win against Western Michigan. It was the eighth time in what figures to be a hall of fame career in which Wilkinson worked all nine innings.
The Munster, Ind., native sits atop Toledo annals in innings pitched and is second in wins. He has never posted a season ERA higher than 2.99.
“As a coach, you want to know what you’re getting every time out,” Rockets skipper Cory Mee said. “With Ryan, he’s been about as consistent as anyone I’ve coached as far as knowing what you’re going to get.”
Also of note is Wilkinson’s classroom consistency. The civil engineering major has landed on the dean’s list in seven of eight semesters, and he attained a 4.0 grade-point average last fall.
Wilkinson (6-4, 2.27 ERA) thrives on location over power, firing his fastball in the low to mid-80s. Nothing he does overwhelms opponents, save for his unwavering desire to succeed.
“He goes out there to compete and to win, and he’ll do everything he can to get there,” catcher James Miglin said.