Photo courtesy of Jim Addis
FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) -- Even rarer than throwing the seventh no-hitter in Marian history, which he did in a 1-0 win over Finlandia back on March 25, 2012, junior to be left-handed pitcher, Sam Forkert, was able to turn a 10-day contract in the highly prestigious Northwoods League into a full season with the Madison Mallards. Prior to this year, only three Marian Sabres have had this opportunity in the 19-year history of the league.
The Northwoods League is a summer wooden-bat league comprised of 16 teams with rosters consisting of the top college talent across the nation, competing in a 70-game regular season schedule from June-August – the longest schedule of any collegiate summer league. In a league that features mostly NCAA Division I and junior college players, Forkert was one of just 14 NCAA Division III players and the lone D3 player on the Mallards' roster.
"It was great for Sam to compete in one of, if not, the best collegiate summer league in the nation," Marian University Head Baseball Coach Jason Bartelt said. "He not only represented Marian, but the Northern Athletics Conference and all of Division III baseball, making the best of his opportunity by turning a 10-day contract into a summer long contract."
"Coming from such a small school, it feels good to represent Marian in a league with guys coming from such big schools," Forkert said.
After making eight relief appearances for the Mallards, while compiling a 1.88 ERA with 14 strikeouts over 14.1 innings, Forkert was promoted to the starting rotation, making his first Northwoods League start on June 21.
"[Going from reliever to starter] was a challenge," Madison Head Coach Greg Labbe said. "We asked him to do some things that would be a challenge to anyone. He started at [Marian], he was durable, he was left handed, and our best option as a starter out of our bullpen. It wasn't easy, but he was able to transition."
In his first start, Forkert would go up against Lakeshore's Chris Cotton out of Louisiana State University, who went 7-0 with a 1.59 ERA over 36 appearances for the Tigers in 2012, and helped LSU get to within one win of reaching the College World Series.
Unaware of his opponent's background, Forkert didn't allow himself to be intimidated in any sense. In fact, he held his own. Despite taking the loss, he threw four innings and allowed three runs on three hits, but walked away with a new perspective.
"I didn't realize who I was pitching against until Coach Bartelt told me after the game," Forkert said. "[Cotton] threw as hard as I did. He hit his spots. I took that start and saw what I needed to do in order to get where he is and found as long as I throw strikes and get outs, it doesn't matter where I'm from."
"One thing I tried to instill in [Sam] before he got here is you have to believe that you belong," Labbe recalled. "With Sam, it was always about that. If a guy believes he belongs and if he believes he's good, he's going to be successful."
Sam finished the summer with a 2-3 record and a 4.64 ERA over 21 appearances, earning the win in his final appearance of the season in a 7-6 win over the Wisconsin Woodchucks. He threw 42.2 innings to bring his spring and summer combined total to 97 total innings, a testament to the durability of a D3 pitcher.
"The main thing I learned from being here is how hard these guys work, not only on the field, but off the field, too," Forkert said of his experience in Madison. "I now see the kind of hard work it takes to get where I want to be and I'm going to work harder at it than I ever have before and see where it takes me."
"Sam definitely showed that he's more than qualified to compete in the [Northwoods] League," Labbe said of Forkert. "He realized that even though he is a D3 guy, he has just as good a chance at playing at this level and beyond than anyone else in this league. I think next year, he could have more success being a year older and year stronger."