For a player at peak physical condition, cracking a national title contender’s starting lineup is no easy task.
Despite a bothersome left knee that greatly diminished his mobility, Kyle Nobach was dead set on giving it a try just days before the 2017 season began. But the two-year starting outfielder and career .299 batter was finally swayed to take a different route.
Nobach wound up redshirting as the Beavers marched to the Pac-12 title and a College World Series appearance. The Washington native has returned to the practice field following a lengthy rehab process, hoping to reclaim his starting spot as the second-ranked Beavers gear up for their Feb. 16 opener with New Mexico in Surprise, Arizona.
“It was definitely a new challenge that I faced last year in (redshirting), and I am just excited to come back and be ready to go with the team,” said Nobach, a fifth-year senior. “I’m just here to help the Beavers win in any way possible, at any position. I’m ready to roll.”
Prior to meeting with a surgeon, Nobach planned to gut it out through knee pain that had come and gone for years. Some days, the knee would feel fine; others, not so much.
But the surgeon believed an arthroscopic chondroplasty procedure could potentially solve Nobach’s problems. A chondroplasty smoothens damaged cartilage that is often associated with stiffness and discomfort.
Nobach was sold.
“When the doctor walked in and said ‘you’re probably not going to be running halfway through the season if you keep going on this,’ that kind of opened his eyes,” coach Pat Casey said. “He’s such a tough kid that he wants to play all the time, and we appreciate that, but I think he wised up to the fact that you’ve got to be healthy.”
Nobach underwent the procedure in late March and began rehabbing the knee a couple days later. He was finally cleared midway through the fall and has been a regular participant in preseason practice.
“We just have to monitor that knee and be smart about having him take time off, making sure that he is ready to go when the season starts,” associate head coach and outfielders overseer Pat Bailey said. “It was to the point last year where he was just having a hard time walking normally down the street. I think he made a really good decision.”
Nobach graduated from Washington’s Marysville Pilchuck High in 2013 and played one season for nearby Everett Community College before transferring to OSU. Midway through the 2015 campaign, Nobach began to experience intermittent knee pain.
He played through the initial discomfort, starting 42 games while batting .317 with 27 RBIs to earn honorable mention all-Pac-12 honors. Nobach received 44 more starts as a junior and hit .280 with 24 RBIs.
By the fall of 2016, the knee had become a daily nuisance.
“It got to the point where my defect was big enough that I was basically feeling it every step I was taking,” Nobach said. “I couldn’t really play the outfield and I was going to gut it out, I was really going to do that, but (Casey) didn’t want me hurting when I was older.”
The redshirt year also allowed Nobach, who has four total home runs as a Beaver, to add strength throughout his body.
Bailey and Casey have noticed extra pop in Nobach’s bat during preseason practice.
“He’s learned how to clear his hips a little bit better to get his lower half to start his swing,” Bailey said. “And I think the second thing is he’s just doing a lot better job of getting pitches that he can drive.”
With returning starters Steven Kwan and Jack Anderson back in the outfield, Nobach is locked in a fierce battle for playing time.
Kwan is expected to be OSU’s top option in center while Anderson can man either corner position. Nobach, who is most comfortable in left field, is competing with Preston Jones, Joe Casey and Anderson for a spot in the lineup.
But the logjam hasn’t shaken Nobach’s determination to reclaim his job.
“I’m always confident, and you have to be in your abilities to have success,” Nobach said. “Because if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.”
Added teammate and roommate Zak Taylor: “I know he’s had a lot of success here … so it’s awesome to have him back. He’s a great energy guy and he’s going to help us out a lot this year.”
Madrigal on list
Junior infielder Nick Madrigal, the reigning Pac-12 player of the year, is one of 55 players on the initial watch list for the 2018 Golden Spikes Award.
The award is given annually to the nation's top amateur player. A midseason watch list will be released in April with semifinalists revealed May 21. Finalists will then be announced June 6 and the award given out June 28.
Madrigal is the 15th Oregon State player to be named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list since 2008, and the 12th since 2012. He is one of six players from the Pac-12 on the 2018 watch list.