PORT ANGELES — Severe back pain literally floored Port Angeles Lefties sidearm reliever Triston Busse in his attempt to return to baseball last fall.
Attempting to restart his career after a year away from the game brought on by some academic struggles at his first collegiate stop at Brigham Young University, Busse started to feel pain soon after arriving at Western Texas College.
“I go out there and was pitching pretty well in the fall but my back is killing me,” Busse said. “It’s hurting all the time and it got so bad I had to lay down to put my clothes on. I couldn’t really walk, I couldn’t drive anymore and everybody thought it was just pulled muscles.”
X-rays and an MRI revealed the cause of Busse’s discomfort was much more severe.
“It turns out I had a herniated disc, two bulging discs, one above and one below, and I tore some of the muscle fibers in my back,” Busse said.
It was the second significant setback for Busse, a product of Gregory-Portland High School near Corpus Christi, Texas.
Busse committed to BYU as a high school sophomore after being recruited by other NCAA Division I programs such as Texas Tech, Tulane, West Virginia, Houston and Tulsa.
“I played a little bit, me and the coach had some differences and I didn’t really get it done with my grades, to be frank,” Busse said.
“It was a steep curve for me. So my family and I decided my best move would be to attend a junior college and focus on my grades.
“Everything went well that fall semester and I was probably doing the best I’ve ever done [academically]. But I go home for [winter] break and get a call that I [was short on credits and] wouldn’t be eligible to transfer to another Division I school right away.
Understandably, Busse said he “was pretty crushed about it.”
“I took summer classes, I worked on a ranch and didn’t play baseball, just worked on online classes, that’s all I did.”
Busse got the call from Western Texas last summer, giving him the chance he needed to get back in the game, but the back issues nearly derailed his cause once again.
Down to his last strike more or less and to relieve his symptoms, Busse opted for treatment over surgery.
“I get three sets of Cortisone shots in my back over Christmas break and then immediately start throwing again because I’m thinking this is my last shot, it’s a do-or-die type of thing,” Busse said. “The doctor told me if I wasn’t trying to keep playing they would have opted for surgery.”
Busse said he used the spring season as a rehab, posting a high 12.38 ERA in 16 innings pitched for Western Texas.
But this summer has been a different story for Busse. He’s maintained that do-or-die approach and is dealing out of the Lefties bullpen.
Through Tuesday’s games, Busse (1-0) has posted a stingy 0.63 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched across six outings, and while not a power pitcher, Busse is second on the team with 14 strikeouts.
“Busse’s numbers are ridiculous,” Lefties manager Darren Westergard said. That kid’s story is awesome. Going to BYU and it didn’t work out and he came home and then had some serious medical issues. He’s also a Type 1 Diabetic, so he’s on a pump and regulating that every day. But he’s getting back to where he was [coming out of high school] and that’s exciting for him and for us.”
Busse, 21, admits he doesn’t have the stuff required to pitch with baseball’s normal overhand delivery. He adopted his funky sidearm-style delivery as a high school sophomore.
“It was just so unique that it stuck with me,” Busse said. “I felt it gave me the best chance to be a pitcher. If I threw overhand I wouldn’t be here. You’ve got all these guys throwing 90-plus with movement and nasty hooks (curve balls) and I just couldn’t do that overhand. I’m just not that kind of guy.”
The difference in arm angles has confounded hitters so far and Westergard said he enjoys bringing the right-hander into tight games.
“He’s nasty,” Westergard said. “When he comes out of the bullpen I love looking at him when I’m out there to give him the ball because it’s a whole another guy. He is excited and he does it the right way. He gets in there, gets the job done and gets his guys going. He celebrates with that one little fist pump [after innings] and he gets [his teammates] excited to go hit.”
Port Angeles pitching coach Brian Daly said bringing on Busse brings about a change in the Lefties’ dugout.
“You can see everybody’s intensity level rise,” Daly said. “They know as a team when he comes in that means the game’s on the line and we are ready to put the nail in the coffin. And so far he’s been that guy who’s locked it down each and every time he’s stepped out there.”
Daly has been working with Busse for just about a month.
“His approach to the summer has been everything you would expect and want out of a junior or senior in college,” Daly said.
“To have a guy like Triston setting the tone and leading by example is important with the mix of younger and older guys we have on the roster. He’s on task, he’s on point and he’s grabbing some of these younger guys and showing them what it takes to be successful at this level or the next level. He’s stepped up and been a leader on and off the field.”
Daly also said if Busse keeps up his level of play, he could become a hot commodity at the professional level.
“I’m not sure a lot of guys who know his backstory and that says even more about him as a person,” he said. “No excuses, no complaints. A lot of people who’ve gone through what he has medically would have shut it down and moved on to try something else. But he’s put himself in a very favorable situation not only for college ball, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not on some pro teams radar by the end of the summer.
“You look around the big leagues and in lower levels of pro ball and there’s not too many guys like that [with his delivery] these days. Triston was smart enough to work with what he’s got and also embrace that chip on his shoulder.”
Busse said he “tries to be the best dude out there” when he enters games.
“It’s sort of a do-or-die thing for me right now and so I try to play like that. I play for my guys on the team. I let them put the ball in play and they do the rest. I get a lot of credit but they make a lot of plays.
Busse thanked the coaching staff for their help.
“Darren and all the coaches here have helped me out more than I could have ever expected,” he said. “I’m healthy now and playing the best baseball that I can.”
Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or at [email protected]