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Sports

Collin Stoecker: Life after baseball

| Friday, March 1, 2019

Many athletes try to avoid thinking about life after sports. So much of an athlete’s identity is wrapped up into the sport they play that losing it is like losing a limb.

Facing that harsh reality came earlier than anticipated for Collin Stoecker. Recruited as a left-handed pitcher back in 2016, Stoecker’s dreams became reality when Notre Dame offered him the opportunity to play baseball.

“I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else,” the senior said. “I was raised to love this place.”

Just as he grew up on Notre Dame, Stoecker grew up on baseball. Both his grandfather and father played, making the sport the logical pastime of choice in his household. As most little kids do, Stoecker played in local leagues growing up.

“I hit a walk-off double the first year of kid-pitch. I remember running around the bases, and my dad — who was my coach — picked me up as I rounded second base,” Stoecker said.

Image courtesy of Collin Stoecker

A young Collin Stoecker looks to throw a strike from the pitcher’s mound

But almost all of Stoecker’s lifelong dreams came to a halt his freshman year at Notre Dame. Leaving high school pitching around 90 mph, Stoecker’s fastball inexplicably dropped to around 84 mph once he arrived in South Bend. Determined to get back into his groove, Stoecker spent all fall preparing and training with the team. Finally, in the late fall, he took the mound during the Blue Gold World Series. But that would be the last time Stoecker would pitch in a Notre Dame uniform.

“I got on the mound, and the first pitch I threw went probably 55 feet, and my arm was just kind of limp. I threw another one, and it bounced in front of the plate again. The catcher walked up to me and was like, ‘It’s time to stop.’ So I went to the dugout and got shut down.”

After that game, the coaches told Stoecker that he would be medically redshirted for his freshman year until they determined what was wrong with his pitching shoulder. He spent all of freshman year in a rehabilitation program with no success.

In May of his freshman year, Stoecker had exploratory surgery on his left shoulder. Doctors found a torn rotator cuff, some labrum issues and a cyst. Later that summer, he went back in for a second surgery, and his medical team did what they could to fix both his shoulder and salvage his throwing ability.

But in spite of his surgery, when sophomore year rolled around, there were still no changes in Stoecker’s throwing ability. He started a throwing program in the fall with the hopes of regaining his ability to pitch for the team. But the program proved fruitless, and by the end of the semester, Stoecker could barely throw a baseball the distance to home plate, let alone at the speed needed to be a college-level pitcher.

Then, in a meeting that changed everything, the coaching staff sat Stoecker down and told him that this injury would be the end of his career.

Ellen Geyer | The Observer

Collin Stoecker in his Notre Dame baseball uniform.

Medically retired, Stoecker had what is known as “baseball-ending surgery” the fall of his junior year to truly fix all the issues in his shoulder. Although the surgery healed everything physically, it introduced Stoecker to an entire new set of mental and emotional obstacles, as it prevented him from ever playing baseball again.

As a junior, Stoecker’s identity on campus completely changed — he started college as a student-athlete, but surgery transformed him into only the former.

“I went through a stretch of anxiety, depression and counseling while I was here,” Stoecker said. “I was just trying to get through everything, which is really common for an athlete transitioning out of [a] sport.”

Although Stoecker could no longer play baseball, he remained an ever-present member of the team. The team was his family, and he could never envision leaving that behind. But no longer a pitcher or even a player, Stoecker needed to rediscover his place on the team.

“Leaving the program, for me, was never really an option in my eyes,” Stoecker said. “It just took a while to find my niche, to find what I wanted to do, to find how I was going to make my difference.”

That niche came along as the then-junior took on the new role of director of social media for the baseball team.

The team was looking for ways to increase its presence in both the Notre Dame community and in the greater community as a whole, and as a marketing major, Stoecker believed he could use his knowledge to take the baseball program’s social media to the next level. He now works tirelessly to highlight the team’s accomplishments.

Stoecker started his work as the team’s social media coordinator with the help of Megan Ganser — a former employee at Fighting Irish Media and now the coordinator of player engagement and family relations with the Cleveland Indians. Ganser helped guide Stoecker, showing him the ropes of what it takes to represent the team well, and she had nothing but glowing reviews of Stoecker’s work over the past year.

“Stoecker is one of the most self-motivated and hardworking individuals I have had the chance to work with in my career,” Ganser said. “He is an ideal teammate and ambassador for the Irish baseball program.”

Image courtesy of Collin Stoecker

Stoecker and his teammates celebrating.

With Stoecker at the social-media reins, the baseball team’s online presence has grown immensely. On Instagram, the team has seen a 100 percent growth in followers and on Twitter, the team had over 15 million impressions in the last year. Stoecker attributes the growth to his passion for the team.

Before practices and games, Stoecker doesn’t plan what he’ll highlight on the team’s social media accounts. But because of his close knowledge of the game, he is able to see and capture the picture-perfect moments in a way the average eye would not.

With a team full of his best friends, Stoecker has the insight that an outsider would not be able to bring to the table.

“It’s my job to make my 40 best friends look as good as possible for as many people as possible,” Stocker said.

While baseball left Stoecker, Stoecker could never leave baseball behind. As such, he’s found a way to bring his passion for the sport back into his everyday life, even though he’s no longer on the mound. Stoecker plans on using what he’s learned in his role over the past year and a half to find a career after graduation that he is equally as passionate about. In so doing, Stoecker has done something that all athletes must do it at one point or another: he has found his life after baseball.

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