Sometimes it is amazing how quickly things can change. Last year at this time Will Allen was rehabbing from a torn labrum, an injury he suffered during his final days at Ole Miss. Now Will Allen is just a few days away from appearing in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in his first professional season. The All-Star Game will be played next Tuesday in Aberdeen, MD at the home of the IronBirds.
Last year Ole Miss was playing in the NCAA Super Regionals against the University of Louisiana Lafayette the top overall seed in the tournament. The winner of the Super Regional advanced to the College World Series a place that Ole Miss had not been since 1972.
From the day Allen, a catcher, arrived on campus at the University of Mississippi the goal had been a clear one. "It was very present from the day that I stepped on campus (as a freshman) that the goal was to make it to Omaha and win a National Championship," says Allen. "In the few years before I got there they were very close, they had gone to the Super Regionals three out of four years and lost."
So with the Rebels of Ole Miss once again just two wins away from reaching that goal the team dropped game one of the best of three series with ULL. In game two Ole Miss was able to keep their season alive but in a collision at the plate Allen, a senior and captain, tore his labrum. On the same day Allen was drafted in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Detroit Tigers.
At first Allen didn't know what the injury was and he played through the pain and Ole Miss ended up taking the final two games of the series to advance to the College World Series for the first time since 1972. "For the coaches who went through it (the years before) and for us and all the hard work that we put in it was a great reward," said Allen. "I was very blessed to be able to do it with the coaching staff that brought me in and to be able to do it with the senior class that I had come in with four years earlier."
Following the Super Regional win the team went back to campus to prepare for the College World Series. The initial plan was for Allen to have an MRI but the team decided against it because the arthrogram dye can hurt the shoulder so it was decided that Allen would simply rest.
Allen didn't throw until the day before the Rebels first game in the College World Series and when he did he knew something wasn't right. "That is when I knew something was wrong and it definitely felt worse then it did before. It was decision I made with my coaches and trainers that if I can play through the pain they are going to give me the opportunity to play."
And play he did behind the plate in the teams opening game against Virginia. Ole Miss lost the game but nothing out of the ordinary happened and Allen was back behind the plate for the Rebels second game.
The second game, an elimination game, was against TCU and Ole Miss had a one run lead late in the game. However, the tying run reached base and stole second and third. On the steal of third Allen's throw rolled to the bag and the tying run ended up scoring on a sacrifice fly.
Ole Miss ended up winning the game but for Allen it would be the final game he played behind the plate as a member of the Rebels. "After the game I talked with the coaches and trainers and said that I didn't want to be reason that they lost a game." It was decided at that point that Allen would serve as the team's designated hitter the rest of the College World Series.
Up next was Virginia again and despite Allen going 3-5 in the game the Cavilers ended the Ole Miss run. After Ole Miss returned home and following a celebration with the fans at the team's stadium it was time to get an MRI. Within a few hours of getting the MRI Allen found out that his labrum had been torn and that his season was over.
Despite the injury Detroit still signed Allen. Following the surgery, which was performed by Dr. James Andrews the Tigers told Allen to rehab on his own and then once he got to Spring Training the organization would take over.
Once Allen reported to Spring Training he was still in rehab mode so it wasn't until Extended Spring Training could he really start to get back into baseball activities. Even then it took a little while for him to get back into the swing of things.
In fact his first at bat in Extended Spring Training was against Connecticut Tiger teammate Gerson Moreno and he struck out on three pitches. The pitch speed for those three pitches? 96, 98 and 99.
"It took me probably about a week to get my timing back and through extended I hit really well and I felt really comfortable," said Allen. "I think that was one of the reasons I got to go to Lakeland. I was there for a week and played in five games and I think I did pretty good for my first experience in pro baseball."
Following the short stay in Lakeland it was off to Connecticut were Allen got off to a bit of a slow start. "In my first couple games I squared up some balls but then I started to get anxious and I got myself out chasing pitches out of zone that I don't usually chase. I just slowed the game down and I worked with Scottie (Dwyer our hitting coach) a lot and he told me you are strong enough and your swing is good enough and what you really have to work on is mentally having more of an approach at the plate and just seeing the ball and swinging at good pitches."
After the early season struggles Allen has been one of the best hitters on the Connecticut roster and has shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields. Allen who is also learning to play first base is currently leading the team with 20 RBI's and is sixth on the team in batting average, currently hitting .270.
Each month has been an improvement for Allen at the plate. In June he hit .222, in July he posted an average of .258 and so far through his first eight games in August he is second the team with an average of .345.
It is that turnaround that earned Allen the All-Star game nod. "I definitely didn't expect it," says Allen of being named to the All-Star team. "It is pretty cool and for it to happen in my first year of pro ball means I am kind of on the right track so I am looking forward to that and representing the Connecticut Tigers and Detroit."
The Connecticut Tigers are the New York-Penn League affiliate of the Detroit Tigers and play a 76 game schedule that runs from mid June through early September. 2015 season tickets, group tickets, mini plans, individual game tickets, and team merchandise are now on sale! The front office and ticket office is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and can be accessed in person or by calling 860-887-7962.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.