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Ballantine inspires baseball team even when he can’t be there

Max Cohen/Daily
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By Max Cohen , Daily Sports Writer
Published April 18, 2013

Moments after awaking from ankle surgery on April 9, Michigan senior right-hander Ben Ballantine checked his Twitter. He knew his baseball career was over after he shattered his ankle in an aborted attempt to cover first base in a game against Bowling Green a week earlier. What he didn’t know was how much his teammates would miss his presence.

During Ballantine’s surgery, the Michigan baseball team boarded a bus to South Bend, Ind. As the Wolverines prepared to leave, fifth-year senior right-hander Chad Jasman felt as if something was wrong. All season, Ballantine sat in front of him on the bus on road trips, and Jasman couldn’t bear the feeling of not having his teammate with him.

“I grabbed (his jersey) from his locker,” Jasman said. “He always sits in front of me on the bus, so I wanted to see his jersey hanging in front of me on the bus if he couldn’t be there.”

On the bus, Jasman tweeted the picture for Ballantine to see when he awoke from surgery. Instead of Ballantine sitting in his normal spot on the bus, his No. 7 jersey was hanging over his seat. Jasman pledged in the tweet that the team would “#ball4bally,” creating the rallying cry in the wake of Ballantine’s injury that’s written at the top of Ballantine’s cast.

“That was a pretty emotional thing to see right when I was regaining consciousness after being operated on,” Ballantine said.

When the team arrived in South Bend, Jasman hung the jersey in the dugout, where it remained throughout the team’s 4-1 win over Notre Dame, the sixth win in the team’s current 10-game winning streak. Jasman wanted the jersey to be visible during games when Ballantine couldn’t be there to embody the traits Ballantine, a member of the team’s new leadership council, exhibited when he played.

“Ben’s always been a guy that has led by example,” Jasman said. “Even though he may not be there for a particular game, you can see Ben’s work ethic in everybody else.”

As Ballantine recovered from his surgery into the weekend, the managers placed his jersey into Jasman’s locker before each game of the home series against Penn State. About 20 minutes prior to each game, Jasman hung up Ballantine’s jersey in the dugout. Whether the team won or lost, Ballantine would be there with them, even if he physically couldn’t.

“We always want Ben there with us,” Jasman said. “If he can’t physically be there, then (his jersey) will help us get through each game.”

The Wolverines did more than get through the first five games in which Ballantine’s jersey hung in the dugout, they won them all. In fact, Ballantine’s devastating injury coincided with the start of Michigan’s current 10-game winning streak.

That’s not to say Ballantine’s absence has been a boon. Before his injury, Ballantine had been a consistent contributor on the pitching staff, maintaining a 2.62 earned-run average in five starts and two relief appearances. But Michigan coach Erik Bakich believes Ballantine’s injury inspired the Wolverines on a different level.

“The team is going to continue to play extremely hard because, as they found out, you never know which play could be your last play in a college uniform,” Bakich said.

Jasman and his teammates have continued to ensure that Ballantine’s jersey is in the dugout before each game, even when Ballantine is present. Before Wednesday’s rain-suspended game against Eastern Michigan, Jasman wouldn’t let Ballantine put on his jersey in the locker room before the game. Instead, Jasman made Ballantine wait to put the jersey on until after it was placed in the dugout, per ritual.

“We’ve definitely got some superstitions, some routines we’re going through,” Jasman said. “We like to call them routines.”

Ballantine’s jersey will hang in the dugout before each game as long as Michigan’s winning streak continues, and maybe longer. For now, each Michigan player plans to continue to “#ball4bally” with a No. 7 jersey hanging in the background, a reminder that each game could be their very last.