Anthony Toth wasn’t even supposed to swing. He was supposed to let the 2-2 pitch at his shoulders fly by and let the count go full.
Then again, he wasn’t supposed to play four years ago, either. He was supposed to redshirt, let his first year go by and prepare for the next season.
But for the redshirt senior second baseman, things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. Like how a teammate’s injury thrust Toth into the lineup his true freshman year. Like how he had to redshirt his second season, less than a year after playing in the Super Regionals.
Like how on Saturday, he somehow connected with a pitch he knew he couldn’t handle for a game-winning and potentially season-changing double.
No. For Anthony Toth, things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. And that’s been a good thing.
With his hit Saturday in the 9-8 win against Winthrop, the co-captain increased his team-leading total of game-winning hits to seven. And though Toth, who said he can’t even remember any of his game-winning hits, cannot explain his success under pressure, his past offers its own explanation.
“It’s been a very, very long journey,” he said. “I mean, this is my fifth year. I’ve played a little bit of college baseball.”
Over those five years, Toth experienced more than most college baseball players ever will.
The recruited walk-on stepped onto campus in 2006 thinking he’d redshirt his true freshman year. In Fall ball, the undersized Toth was having serious issues.
“Offensively, I was just peppering balls into the visitor’s dugout all day because I just couldn’t catch up to anything. My swing was so bad,” Toth said.
In the winter, Michigan coach Rich Maloney and the coaching staff prohibited Toth from hitting a baseball. Instead, he did dry swings with a monster bat — a heavily weighted bat — for three months trying to solve his swing troubles. The three months, they figured, would be worth it. After all, he was redshirting that year anyway.
But an injury to starting shortstop Leif Mahler changed that. Suddenly, Toth was forced into the mix as the utility infielder off the bench. But the freshman rolled with it. He made six starts at second base, recorded 11 hits in 26 at bats and was a key defensive player.
And, most importantly, he got his first taste of a win-or-go-home atmosphere when the Wolverines completed their series victory over Vanderbilt in the Regional Finals.
“The clinching game … was the most nervous I’ve ever been in any sport at any point in my life,” Toth said. “And I actually made an error that game, and it was to put the winning run on in the bottom of the ninth. So, as you can imagine, I was freaking out.”
Luckily for Toth, the error didn’t cost Michigan the series. The freshman had survived his first pressure situation, and in doing so, gained experience that would prove invaluable in the years to come.
When Mahler returned to health in 2008, Toth was forced to go from the field at the Super Regionals to the bench for a redshirt season his sophomore year. Toth waited and watched, but he never stopped working.
“Anthony, for one, has worked from the bottom up,” Maloney said. “Just on his own, the swing, he had to reconstruct … plus he was weak, strength-wise. He’s worked his tail off to get stronger. I don’t know how many pounds, you’ll have to ask him, I bet you he gained 25 to 30 pounds.
“It just says a lot about who he is as a character and how bad he wanted to be a player for Michigan.”
As Toth began to develop physically, he began to develop into a team leader as well. Strengthened by his experience and his work ethic, he’s now one of the team’s best situational hitters — especially late-game situations.
After losing two close games in the first half of the Bojangles Baseball Classic last weekend, the Wolverines managed to claw their way back to an 8-8 tie against Winthrop entering the ninth inning.
That’s when he saw the pitch.
“Coach and I talked about all the time that a pitch that I can’t handle is anything above my hands,” he said. “It was a fastball that was up at my shoulders that I should’ve never been swinging at.”
He was never supposed to swing at the pitch. And he certainly wasn’t supposed to be able to hit it. But for Toth, things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to.
And on Saturday, that was definitely a good thing.