The season started with a little chaos.
Linden varsity baseball coach Tony Puente was fired about a week into practices, and when spring break was over, new head coach Tom Derwin was at the helm.
It certainly was a challenge for the players.
“For the team it was a minor setback,” Linden pitcher Travis Klocek said. “But it gave us a chance to come together and have us buy in with the new program and play baseball the way we knew how to play. That week without coach we basically came closer as a team.”
Klocek and the Eagles allowed the adversity to reflect their strong character. The Eagles ended up finishing the Metro League season with a 13-3 record, earning second place. The squad won 20 games with Klocek pitching six of those wins.
Through all the adversity, Klocek earned an honor he collected a year ago. He’s our two-time Tri-County Baseball Player of the Year.
Derwin learned quickly how good his senior ace was when he took over the head coaching position.
“I give all the credit to Travis. He pitched against high level teams and he was never outmatched,” Derwin said. “He had a great career at Linden and was a mainstay in this area. I was really impressed with that kid with all he’s done during his career. He’s truly an outstanding player.”
Klocek pitched 56 2/3 innings, recording a 1.88 earned run average and a 6-1 Metro record. He struck out 45 batters and allowed just 35 hits and 14 walks, meaning he allowed less than a runner on base during the season. The Cleary University-bound hurler tossed six complete games. He was so respected that he was his team’s starting pitcher in the annual North-South All-Star Game held earlier this summer.
A year ago he tossed 58 2/3 innings and allowed just 34 hits and five runs, recording an 8-1 record overall.
“This year was a little more challenging because the teams and players knew me a little better,” Klocek said. “They knew what I was capable of doing. But that’s good because now I know what I plan on working on when I go to the next level.”
Two of Klocek’s best-pitched games came in contests the Eagles actually lost, but came against state-ranked foes.
Brighton finished the season ranked third in Division 1 in the final regular season poll on May 29 and Klocek was masterful against the Bulldogs. He pitched seven innings of shutout ball against Brighton, but the game remained scoreless. Linden scored a run in the top of the eighth, but a two-out error in the bottom of the eighth helped Brighton edge Klocek and the Eagles in a 2-1 victory. Both runs were unearned.
In another game against Division I’s top-ranked team, Woodhaven, Klocek tossed six innings of shutout ball, but the Eagles eventually lost the contest 6-4.
“I learned a lot from games like these,” Klocek said. “I mentally learned who I am as a player. I don’t let it affect me as much as most people would. I took it as a learning step and learned from it.”
His best outing of the season was a no-hitter against the Fenton Tigers. Klocek won a 1-0 contest while striking out nine.
“I was so determined to pitch well against Fenton,” Klocek said.
“I had the mindset to pitch my game and whatever happens, happens. I got in a groove early and got it going from there. I didn’t even know I had a no-hitter until later.”
“He has no fear,” Derwin said. “He attacks everybody. He can throw three pitches for strikes at any time. He adapts very well to different hitters. He’s very intuitive and a true leader on the mound. I didn’t realize the impact he has on a game until I watched him pitch.”