WHITING — What does the future hold for Northwest Indiana Oilmen ace Jack Guzek? Your guess is as good as his.
"I'm in between baseball and work," Guzek said before last week's Midwest Collegiate League All-Star Game. "I'm obviously going to take what's best for me."
From this vantage point, what exactly that is remains an open question.
Guzek, who starred at Brother Rice in Chicago and whose dad, Brian, was a multisport standout at Highland, is 22. He has just two full seasons of college baseball on his resume even though he already has graduated from Iowa with a bachelor's degree in human health and physiology.
He redshirted at Indiana State in 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, played at Gulf Coast State College in 2019 and made just three appearances at Iowa before COVID-19 ended the 2020 season.
Baseball returned this spring, but with a still-abbreviated schedule. The Hawkeyes, like other Big Ten schools, cut out the mid-week games that could have given Guzek some opportunities to raise his profile.
As it was, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound right-hander had a rough season, going 0-1 with an 11.81 ERA in six games.
Between the redshirt and the extra year the NCAA granted all athletes because of COVID-19, Guzek is eligible to return to Iowa. But he's turned that page.
"They would like for me to come back, and I thought it would be a good option," Guzek said. "But financially I would say it wasn't the best option because they're out of scholarship money, and Iowa is a very, very expensive school."
That said and the numbers notwithstanding, Guzek has no regrets about playing for the Hawkeyes this spring.
"I worked a lot with the Iowa coaches this year," he said. "And even though it didn't go well there, they still taught me a ton of things which contributed to me doing well here, even last year."
No doubt about that. Guzek has been an elite pitcher in the hitter-dominated MCL since he arrived in Whiting three years ago. This summer, he's 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA and a 44-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 innings. Overall with the Oilmen, Guzek is 10-3. He also has a 3.18 ERA over 17 games with 124 strikeouts and 15 walks in 87 1/3 innings.
The biggest thing he picked up from Iowa coaches is another pitch.
"I didn't really have a curveball last year," said Guzek, who does now. "And I changed a couple of grips on my pitches to allow them to move the way I'd prefer them to move. And I could throw them harder than I would before."
For all these reasons, Guzek believes he's a more complete — and more effective — pitcher than his college numbers would suggest. He just needs to find some professional club to realize that.
One of the reasons to come back to the Oilmen this summer was to stay sharp until the MLB Draft earlier this month. Guzek wasn't expecting to be selected, but thought an opportunity to sign as an undrafted free agent might be possible. That didn't materialize, but independent teams are always looking for arms.
"You never know what can happen, so I might as well keep playing for a little bit," he said. "Especially when I'm not working yet. I'm still looking for a job so I'm not doing absolutely nothing. I'm still playing because I'm still having fun."
TJ Marik, Guzek's third manager in three seasons with the Oilmen, only knew his ace by reputation before the season started. But he's quickly become a fan.
That strikeout-to-walk ratio "is possibly the most impressive pitching number I've ever heard in my life," Marik said. "And honestly, him just being able to get up on the mound and just the way he fills up the (strike) zone, throws every pitch for strikes — he's been really fun to watch this summer."
With a little bit of luck, Guzek will be fun to watch for a few more summers before he puts down his glove and joins the working world full-time.
Mike Clark can be reached at (219) 933-4197 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions are the writer's.