When the going got tough, it just kept getting tougher.
That’s how it’s been all season for the Michigan baseball team.
But in every tough moment, fifth-year senior captain and second baseman Anthony Toth — the unquestioned heart and soul of the Wolverines — was there to pick his team up.
And there have been enough moments to make Toth’s hair gray faster than Barack Obama’s has.
First there was the horrendous start to the season. Just days after Michigan was picked to finish second in the conference, the Wolverines kicked off their season with a seven-game losing streak, starting the year by losing 12 of their first 15.
In the midst of all the losing, Toth lost his fellow co-captain, senior starting pitcher Kolby Wood, to a season-ending arm injury the same week another starter — senior pitcher Travis Smith — was also lost for the season.
When Michigan was later swept at home by rival Michigan State, it was Toth calling out the team’s work ethic.
“A lot of guys know that work hasn’t been done,” he said March 27. “A lot of guys know that they’ve been cutting corners and now it’s catching up to them.”
And the team took notice, slowly beginning to play better following the series that Toth called “rock bottom.”
Then sophomore shortstop Derek Dennis broke his foot and missed a few weeks. When Dennis returned, sophomore Kyle Clark — the Wolverines most consistent pitcher — dropped furniture on his hand, ending his season.
Toth started at shortstop in Michigan’s shocking 2007 upset over Vanderbilt. He has a winner’s mentality and it has showed. Entering his senior year, the Wolverines had averaged 38 wins during his tenure.
But while the losses were racking up this year quicker than you can spell T-O-T-H, the captain never lost his stride — Toth never quit.
He didn’t quit when he had no major scholarship offers to play collegiate baseball.
He didn’t quit when — as a freshman preferred walk-on — his swinging mechanics were so bad that he wasn’t allowed to take batting practice.
He didn’t quit when — after being forced into the lineup as a freshman because of injuries — Michigan coach Rich Maloney redshirted him the next year.
He didn’t quit when phenom shortstop Derek Dennis came in last year, forcing Toth to move over to second base.
He didn’t quit when — as a career .315 hitter — his average had dropped below .200 this year. It got so bad that Maloney had to give him an unheard-of day off.
And his team didn’t quit on him.
They kept battling. The pitching — despite being severely hampered by injuries — started coming through. The hitters began picking up timely hits. And the team won back-to-back conference series.
Things were looking up. And then Michigan traveled to Columbus to face the team Toth grew up rooting for.
Even after Ohio State swept the Wolverines thanks to back-to-back double header walk-off victories in extra innings, Toth was there with reassurance to let everyone — both inside and outside the program — know that things would be okay.
The next day, Toth felt discomfort. A day later, he learned he had a stress fracture to his right leg, ending his season and career.
For once in his life, Anthony Toth had been quit on, and it came from his own body.
His body was never as athletically gifted as many of his teammates or opponents. But where his speed or strength may have lacked, it was his grit, determination and heart that made him a good player and an even better person.
And he had an uncanny ability to lead. He was all you could ask for as a captain.
Toth’s career as a Wolverine is over. Wherever he goes in life — either playing in the minor leagues, in Greece, or opting to enter the business world — you can bet he’ll be successful. He’ll continue to inspire those around him and make them better people — on both a professional and personal level.
But now Michigan, who may start as many as seven underclassmen, is left with a leadership void that’s much bigger than the gap Toth once covered with ease on Ray Fisher Stadium’s diamond.
And the team’s resiliency against giving up may have finally run out of air.