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Appalachian State’s Tyler Zupcic ready to play baseball again

By Tommy Bowman
Winston-Salem Journal
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Tyler Zupcic

Tyler Zupcic has repeatedly watched the replay, but he’s determined to move on.

It has been 20 months since Appalachian State’s Zupcic slid hard at home plate in an NCAA regional game, got tangled with Oklahoma catcher Tanner Toal and nearly had a promising baseball future end.

Zupcic, an outfielder-infielder who starred at Providence High, suffered torn posterior-cruciate and lateral-collateral ligaments and a broken fibula – and faced a long and painful rehabilitation after surgery.

He would have given up his senior season at Appalachian State and started a pro career if not for the injury. Instead, he will be with the Mountaineers on Friday when they open their season at Arkansas.

Zupcic – son of Bob Zupcic, who played for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox – said he has often relived the play. He was trying to score from second on an errant throw in the Mountaineers’ 5-4 victory.

“I’m about three-quarters of the way home and see that the catcher has the ball,” Zupcic said. “So I’m like, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ I slid hard into him. It wasn’t anything dirty or anything, but I did slide hard.”

The catcher hung on. Zupcic was out, and he popped up and walked to the dugout.

“As soon as I stepped a foot into the dugout, I just collapsed,” said Zupcic, who is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. “My knee just felt like something was wrong. I honestly felt like I had broken my leg.”

Amazingly after a preliminary check, Zupcic returned to the game and played the remaining six innings. He said he was fortunate no balls where hit to him. He saw a doctor afterward and was told he should be fine for the next day’s game.

“The next morning, I wake up and it’s bruised and swollen, and I can’t even walk,” he said. “I knew then something definitely was wrong.”

An MRI revealed the damage, and an eight-hour surgery in Charlotte followed.

“I actually had a couple of doctors turn down my surgery, because of the severity of it and the uniqueness of it,” Zupcic said. “Every doctor I talked to didn’t believe I finished that game. They said there’s no way I should have been able to walk let alone run.”

The injury ended Zupcic’s plans to turn pro after the 2012 season. He expected to be drafted, somewhere in the 10- to 15-round range, and to be playing minor league ball within days of the end of his junior season.

Instead, he embarked on a recovery path that had him in a wheelchair for a month and on crutches for three months. He said he finally felt 100 percent last August.

“I feel like I have a normal knee now,” Zupcic said.

Zupcic, who ranks fifth on Appalachian State’s all-time list with 45 steals and is in the program’s top 10 in hits and runs, was a top defensive center fielder projected by pro teams as a corner outfielder.

He said he’s realistic that he might not have the same speed but plans to gain in other areas.

“I know where I’m at,” he said. “It might not be to where I was, but I’m going to adjust. I’m still going to play the same way.”

Mountaineers coach Billy Jones said Zupcic will play multiple positions, more out of need than accommodation.

“We need his bat in the lineup,” Jones said. Zupcic hit .350 as a sophomore and .338 as a junior.

Jones said Zupcic is athletic enough to play anywhere: “Second base, first base, left field, right field, center field. If he could catch, I’d put gear on him.”

But the bat is still the ticket to what Zupcic hopes will be a pro career.

“That’s the one thing I haven’t lost,” he said. “I might have lost a step or two. But my hitting ability hasn’t changed.”

In some ways, Zupcic said it feels as if he was meant to return to Appalachian State, where his brother Drake is a freshman outfielder. He also said he can’t wait to get started.

“Stepping on that field for the first time again is going to be feel like a victory for me,” Zupcic said.

The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Wake Forest coverage go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/wfu/
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