Former Alden-Hebron standout Mark Winkelman recently finished his baseball career at Creighton, where he set a school record for appearances by a pitcher. But 130 appearances – mostly in relief – also took a toll on Winkelman’s arm, possibly costing him a chance at a career in baseball. On Draft Day, Winkelman received calls from the Angels, Astros, Giants, Rockies and Royals while also drawing interest from the Reds and Yankees.
I had thought about professional baseball ever since I was a little kid. I had never thrown very hard growing up. I picked up a little velocity the summer of my sophomore year and I started getting a few letters and questionnaires and calls my junior year and I started thinking it could become a reality. But unfortunately, my arm’s just really been bothering me and I just didn’t want to have surgery and rehab and all that. It got to the point by the end of my senior year (at Creighton) when it was in pain throwing and so I just didn’t think it was worth being in pain for. I love the game and I had a great career – I really enjoyed it. But I thought it was time to hang ’em up and move on.
It was hard but I just wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to say, “Yeah, OK, I’ll sign” and then get down there (to the minors) and not be able to throw. I think my arm could have healed but it would have taken a lot of time. Getting up to the pros is a long process as it is if you make it up there [to the majors]. So [the decision] was really hard, but at the same time, just getting contacted and called on Draft Day was an accomplishment in itself. So I did feel pretty good about that.
[The arm injury] was pretty discouraging. I started having issues with it halfway through my senior year and I guess I could have taken half the year off and just signed with a team. But I really liked being part of the team at school. When you play for a team like that, you can kind of fight through pain or fatigue a little bit. But when you get into the minors, it’s every man for themselves and you need to perform to get promoted. I didn’t think I would be able to handle the pain at that level.
I don’t want to say setting a new school record was enough for me because I definitely would have liked to keep playing. But it’s a big accomplishment, especially coming from a small school and not a lot of people thinking you can go anywhere. But I went to a Division I school and not only did I go, but I played and I set that record. So I guess there was a little bit of peace just to know that I did work hard and it did pay off and I enjoyed my time there. After high school, I was a little nervous because I was THE guy and in Division I baseball, there’s not a lot of times when you’re going to be their guy. But it was definitely nice to know the role you’re in – sometimes, I’d come in in the second (inning) and sometimes, it would be the ninth. I knew that was my role – to come in whenever coach needed me to, so for me, it was a great experience. I had great teammates all four years, had great coaches and so it was a lot of fun.
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