Endor’s song “Pump it Up” rang through the speakers of Bob Wren Stadium as Ohio was closing the door on its second series sweep of the season against Eastern Michigan. Down the left field line, players in the bullpen were seen throwing water and dancing with traffic cones on their heads in celebration.
The bullpen is well-known among the team for its wild celebrations during wins. Collectively called “The Dojo” by the rest of the Bobcats, Ohio’s bullpen has seen to making this season its own.
There are 15 players on Ohio’s staff and only three freshmen. The veteran-heavy group knew going into the season that it would face obstacles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it quickly adapted to make the most of the new changes.
In a traditional year, the pitchers would not all be housed in the bullpen. However, due to COVID-19 protocols, the Bobcats decided to use the area to spread themselves out. Despite this, they were not going to let being distanced from the dugout clip their spirits.
In fact, it inspired them to go all out.
“We had the idea to get a gong and just have a noise instrument,” senior right-hander Edward Kutt IV said. “Once we had the idea of a gong, then we just started calling ourselves ‘The Dojo.’”
They let their teammates know that despite the physical separation, they’re still connected to them by sounding the gong after big plays. Each strikeout and home run warrants use of the gong. The time separated from the rest of the Bobcats has allowed the pitching staff to establish new traditions, such as a boxing belt, while in their own space.
The belt was introduced after Kutt’s father purchased it at an auction. Kutt thought the odd item would be an interesting piece to add to the bullpen to keep things cheerful. The pitchers love to hold it up as a sign of encouragement for the players on the field when spirits may be low.
The bullpen has used the gong and the belt to spur game-winning moments. Both items were in full use when Aaron Levy hit a walk-off home run against Eastern Michigan in mid-April. After Levy knocked the ball over the left field wall, the pitching staff immediately hopped the fence and met Levy at home plate to celebrate.
The energy carried over to the next game. The bullpen made a splash on Twitter with their reactions to Ohio’s 3-2 win over the Eagles. The players in the bullpen were overjoyed as they stood on the fence and shouted in celebration.
Each pitcher brings their own leadership style to the table, and it has allowed the staff to grow as a whole. Kutt and senior left-hander Brett Manis pride themselves on helping the team develop defensively by working through drills with the younger players.
A lot of the focus has gone toward freshman right-hander Logan Jones, who has been one of Ohio’s go-to starters this season. Kutt, Manis and fellow starter Joe Rock have mentored Jones this season, and Jones has developed into one of Ohio’s strongest young talents.
“I just kind of put my head down and got to work, and then (I) started to realize that I could possibly help the team as a freshman and all the other guys saw that, too,” Jones said. “We got after it together.”
Jones and Rock, along with right-handers Braxton Kelly and Colin Sells, have been the usual starters for the Bobcats in the past month. However, the job remains fluid, as Ohio has used a total of seven different starters throughout the season. This doesn’t phase the relievers, though. It’s their job to come in and adapt to whatever situation they’re handed.
Each relief pitcher has to find a moment to take themselves out of the noise and focus on preparing to enter the game.
“Everybody has their own way of doing things,” Manis said. “And, for me, I just find a point in the game where I’m like, ‘All right, (I’ve) got to start locking it in and getting ready to go in if I need to.’”
Manis has had no problem locking in on the mound. The closer’s four saves are the fourth highest in the league. His ability to work through jams makes him a valuable asset to the bullpen. In two of his appearances against Eastern Michigan, Manis entered the game with runners on and didn’t allow a single run.
While not leading the MAC, the pitchers have been essential to the Bobcats this season. Ohio ranks sixth in the MAC for pitching but tops the conference in saves, with 10 thus far. Aside from saves, the Bobcats’ stats sit in the middle of the pack.
Ohio’s 5.17 ERA is a result of 139 of the 154 runs scored against it, which have been earned runs. The situation is the same for its strikeout total of 248. Ohio has achieved many strikeouts this season by mixing pitches and focusing on individual batters. Despite the high number of strikeouts, the Bobcats have only thrown one shutout this season, coming from Rock’s no-hitter in late February.
But it’s about more than their on-field performance for the Bobcats. This season has meant more to them after the pandemic cut the 2020 season short. They’re just happy to be playing again.
“It was a bummer that last year got canceled, but that gave us more drive to come out here this year to win games,” Manis said.
Kutt feels the same way.
“I feel like this year, having most of the seniors, granted most of us are coming back, makes you realize this is pretty much our class we came in with (and) makes it a little more important,” Kutt said.
As the season enters its final month, the team has its eye on one particular prize: the MAC Championship. To get to this point, Ohio’s four seniors and the rest of the staff have kept pushing forward, taking the last half of the season series by series until they reach the top. Ohio only has six series games left in the regular season, but The Dojo is locked in and ready for anything.