Outfielder Justin Glass emerged as the Bearcats premier player last season without ever truly being at full strength, feeling as healthy as any point in his career expectations are through the roof for the junior as UC baseball opens the season today.
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By Joe Gryniewski/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- With the return of baseball season today for the University of Cincinnati with the opening game at Florida Atlantic comes the return of the Bearcats brightest young star, Justin Glass. Yet for the young outfielder the start of the season isn't just about the beginning of baseball, it's a chance for personal redemption.
An odd thought for anyone whose followed UC baseball the last two years. What could there be to redeem? After all, Glass led the team in runs, hits, RBIs, batting average and stolen bases last season while being named first team All-Big East.
Well, he earned all those accolades without playing at full strength. In fact, despite turning in two of the better freshman and sophomore seasons in recent memory around Marge Schott Stadium, Glass is yet to do so with a clean bill of health.
That is, until now.
"My expectations are really high," Glass said, promptly repeating it for emphasis. "Really high."
The redemption theme that has been building for Glass since 2010 when he graduated Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. Glass came off a season in which he shattered many of the school's all-time records, named a Louisville Slugger All-American and accepted a scholarship to UC. With his arrival on campus came lofty expectations. This is where luck began to unravel a bit for Glass, as injuries derailed the perfect start many hoped for Glass' career.
In an average college baseball season you can expect to play about 60 games, and when you consider the players are taking the field three to four times a week, it is easy to see the game can quickly become a war of attrition. Glass knows this all too well, spending the last two seasons battling through those injuries, while trying to live up to the tremendous expectations.
In his freshman year, Glass was able to start all 57 games for the Bearcats despite being hampered by a torn labrum. While he hit .326 with 45 RBI, 14 doubles and was named to the All-Big East Second Team, he knew production was far under what it could have been.
Coming off the labrum injury, and with high hopes for his sophomore season, Glass suffered from preseason appendicitis and consequently missed the entirety of the offseason. While the injury didn't physically hinder his play like the torn labrum of his first year, it did cause him to mentally lose his edge.
"I had no timing or anything," explained Glass.
Timing or no, Glass was a reliable force in the Bearcats line up, and despite missing the entire offseason; he started all 56 games in the outfield. He hit .366 with 21 doubles, 26 RBI and 15 stolen bases.
Glass' ability to perform at a high level while dealing with injuries thrust him into the national spotlight, and all eyes are on the Bearcats outfielder now that he will finally be playing in full force. Having been held back from his potential for two years, Glass is finally ready to get the monkey off of his back.
"I'm pumped," says Glass, "It's the first time I have been healthy in my entire career, so I'm more than happy to finally show everyone what I'm worth."
He's already proven to be a consistent force in the middle of the lineup. To play every game in his college career in spite of injury is one thing, but playing to the level he has is what makes Glass an centerpiece of the team.
"He's the type of player that can anchor your line up," Clearly said. "There aren't many guys that can hit third and he's one of them. When healthy, he can change the course of a game with his power and speed."
The team shares their coach's high regards of Glass, electing him their first team captain since the 2010 season.
"He has the overwhelming support of his teammates, and he takes the position very seriously," said Cleary, "This team means a lot to him."
Yet all the praise hasn't gotten to Glass' head, as he still feels he has a chip on his shoulder, and much more to accomplish.
Going into this season, Glass has been named the sixth best pro prospect in the Great Lakes League by Baseball America and eighth best by Perfect Game. There is a growing sense that if Glass can stay healthy, and continue his tremendous performance on the field, he could be getting big league offers come draft time.
"It's kept driving me everyday," Glass said. "My family and friends are excited about the possibility, but I have to focus one day at a time and hopefully it will come. I just want to bring us the Big East championship, all the personal stuff that comes with winning is just icing on the cake."
While the young outfielder is focused on the upcoming season, he does have the occasional daydream of playing in the majors.
"It would be a dream come true if my name gets called this June," he said. "I'd be happy as heck."
The personal accolades and MLB possibilities shine in the distance, but what brightens this Friday under the Florida sun is for the first time in his collegiate career, he's been unshackled from injuries that plagued him.
"I feel great," he said. "It's the strongest and fastest I've been, mentally and physically, since high school."