Perfect season intact, Scott Karl bid an early farewell to his first minor-league season last week in order to return for the fall semester at the University of Hawaii.
Karl was 7-0 with a league-leading 1.46 earned run average in nine starts for Helena, Mont., a Class-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. He had struck out 57 batters and walked only 16 in 61 2/3 innings. Furthermore, thanks to his first professional shutout, on Aug. 18, Helena had solidified its hold on first place in the Pioneer League's Southern Division.
It hurt to leave early, Karl said. But it was time.
"I had made commitments to come back here," Karl said from Honolulu, where he is completing work on a degree in accounting. "And Milwaukee had made commitments to let me go early when I signed with them in June. It was already a done deal."
As a senior at Carlsbad High in 1989, Karl suffered a broken left ankle that left him wondering if he would walk again, let alone continue playing baseball.
The injury occurred while Karl was playing fullback for the Lancers' soccer close to the baseball season, and I had informed the coach this was going to be my last soccer game," he said.
It was one too many.
Karl suffered the injury on a routine clearing pass near the sideline midway through the first half of a match against San Marcos.
"The guy came in sliding," Karl recalled, "connected with my ankle, and my foot never came off the ground. My ankle just snapped like a piece of wood."
His first thoughts?
"Baseball. What's going to happen now? Looking at it, I thought the ankle was gone completely," he said. "What was going to happen? Would I ever play baseball again? About 1,000 thoughts per second raced through my head."
Surgery was performed the next day, and two pins were required to connect Karl's bones.
Karl and teammate Jeff Myers had been co-MVPs in the Avocado League during their junior years, and each had been courted by several high-caliber college baseball teams before Karl's injury. After it, the inquiries ceased for Karl--all but one.
"A lot of schools weren't convinced I'd come back 100% so they weren't willing to invest that kind of money in me," Karl said. "It just so happened an assistant coach at a rival high school (Dean Hall of San Marcos) had played at Hawaii. He recommended me to them, and they came back with a full scholarship offer. They had never even seen me pitch . . . The first time I met the coaching staff was when I signed the letter of intent.
"It was really weird. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn't expecting anything like that."
Neither was he expecting much from his senior season. But after joining the Lancers midway through the year, Karl finished with a 0.00 ERA in 38 innings. He also hit .350 and Carlsbad went on to win the San Diego Section 2-A championship.
In order to play, Karl wore a brace on his ankle and continued wearing it during his first two years at Hawaii. The brace, however, was uncomfortable, and it did not keep Karl from favoring the ankle and slowly changing his pitching mechanics in order to do so. He began having back problems and finished those first two years with a combined 13-10 mark and 4.83 ERA.
This spring, pitching without the brace for the first time in three years, the left-handed Karl was 14-3 with a 2.36 ERA for the Rainbows and was named second team All-American.
His last college start, he says, was his most memorable. His last game, his most disappointing.
Hawaii, coming through the loser's bracket in the NCAA West Regional at Tucson, Ariz., needed to beat Pepperdine twice to advance to the College World Series. In the first game, Karl was matched up against Pepperdine's Patrick Ahearne.
Karl pitched a complete game and won, 6-3. It turned out to be Pepperdine's only postseason loss.
Lancer reunion: Karl and Jeff Myers, teammates and friends at Carlsbad, pitched against each other for the first time in that NCAA West Regional. Myers pitched to two batters in the late innings.
It was a typical situation for Myers on what most considered the nation's best pitching staff.
But although he got little work, Myers was drafted by the San Francisco Giants' organization, and he has responded by posting a 4-4 mark with a 3.63 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings for Everett, Wash., in the Class-A Northwest League.
Waiting: Circumstances pending, Jim Tatum stands a good chance of being promoted to the Milwaukee Brewers when major-league rosters can be expanded to 40 players on Sept. 1.
Tatum, a third baseman from Santana High, is hitting .329 with 30 doubles, 14 home runs and 85 RBIs for Denver, the Brewers' triple-A affiliate.
As of Tuesday, his batting average was only a point lower than that of American Assn. leader Geronimo Berroa (Cincinnati Reds' organization). Tatum was third in the league in RBIs, giving him 503 during six minor-league seasons with the Brewers, Cleveland Indians and Padres.
Waiting II: Bob Natal, a catcher from UC San Diego, hit two home runs Monday to lift Indianapolis to a 7-6 victory over Nashville. Natal, batting .324 for the Montreal Expos' triple-A club, now has 12 home runs and 50 RBIs in 84 games. He, too, is likely to be called up in September.