BY LIZ NAGLE
Daily Sports Writer
Published May 24, 2012
Six people with vastly different lives, backgrounds and reasons found their way to Michigan. They came to write a new chapter, discover their purpose and recapture their love for the game.
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Six paths merged into a single direction that led them to the heart of Ann Arbor.
As the seniors stepped off the field at Ray Fisher Stadium for the last time, their footprints sank into the crimson dirt, deepening their mark on tradition.
Though the impressions have since disappeared, raked over and smoothed into the ground, small traces of the rust-colored dust stuck to the bottom of their cleats and will follow them wherever their next journey lies.
Their stories were unwritten and untold until now.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far: A young John Lorenz slipped his hand into a glove.
As soon as he could walk, John was in the backyard of his home on Chicago’s South Side, learning the basics that would carry him to a college career across Lake Michigan.
John was fortunate to grow up on a block full of kids, and he spent many summer days playing pickup games in the street and a nearby empty lot.
But John always saved enough energy for when his father, Joe, would come home from work.
He would rush to his side.
“Dad, let’s go out and play catch.”
Joe knew a thing or two about the old ball game. After playing for Lewis University, he spent the next four years in the minor leagues at third base — the position he would one day pass down to his son.
After Joe’s stint in professional baseball with the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves, he started taking his young son to high-school games and Lewis alumni games — where John got his first taste of competition, and that sparked a hunger that has yet to be satisfied.
John was in second grade and the sun was just peeking out of the early morning darkness. He woke up early to get ready for school — his mother, Erin, was impressed. But she soon realized there was an ulterior motive as her son sat in front of the television, mesmerized by last night’s double plays and home runs on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
During elementary school and beyond, teachers would ask him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
John never hesitated to answer, “A baseball player.”
John’s grandmother — a diehard White Sox fan — further nurtured his dream, ingraining players and stats into his head. And that generational love of the game trickled down the family tree.
With baseball at the forefront, John added basketball and volleyball to his already hectic schedule. On the weekends, he would rush from one game to the next, switching uniforms in the car, barely making it in time for tip off or the first pitch.
Erin, who played collegiate volleyball and is the director of Ultimate Volleyball Club, and Joe were happy to share their passions with their son, but they never pushed him — John was competitive by his own nature.
At 14 years old, John made it to the Junior Olympics for volleyball, but his team fell short. Upset as he passed the bracket boards, John looked over the USA Volleyball All-American list. With determination in his eyes, he turned to his mother and said, “I want to be on that list.”
One year later, he made it, and he took his team to the championships.
But as the level of competition rose, John had a decision to make. In the back of his mind, he always knew his heart was in baseball.
John knew the rule.
“You can’t commit on the spot — we need to go home and discuss it as a family.”
After months of recruiting letters, scholarship offers and visits to different universities, John was faced with another decision that would define his future.
As soon as he stepped onto the Ray Fisher field, he imagined himself playing on that very grass. He felt at home.
During the tour of the facilities, John’s certainty only grew stronger. Then-head coach Rich Maloney escorted the Lorenz family into the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center, where he turned off the lights in the theater.
A feature of Michigan history played before them, ending with footage of the team that won three straight Big Ten titles.