High school baseball: Brand new ballgame for Maple Mountain's Nick Van Wagoner after beating a drug addiction

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

"Thank goodness for the coach," Mark Van Wagoner said of Maple Mountain's baseball boss. "Coach (Gary) Miner is an amazing person and he really rallied the team around Nick. They pulled him into their circle and really supported him.

"Now he's doing so well and having so much success in school and on the baseball field," Mark said. "He's received so much support from everybody everywhere he goes. … There's something special in Nick that a lot of people either don't have or they don't recognize it. It's some spirit type of deal to be where he's at today. He wanted to be somewhere and didn't know how to get there, and Odyssey House provided the tools for him to get there."

Nick set three lofty goals for himself upon his return to the "real" world: 1) He wanted to achieve a 3.5 GPA; right now he's nearly there with a 3.4; 2) He wanted to play baseball, work hard and get recognized by a college, and hopefully one day play in the big leagues; and 3) He wants to serve an LDS mission, and he has already submitted his mission papers and is awaiting his call.

Yes, right now, the Comeback Kid is right on track to accomplish all three.

After missing so much time at school over a two-year period, it took Nick a ton of time and hard work to get caught up on his academics — which he finally achieved.

As for baseball, he missed two high school seasons and was worried whether he still had the right stuff to compete. He soon found out he did.

"I wanted to play baseball so badly, that was my dream," he said. "Baseball was a big motivation for me. Every day I always thinking about baseball. … I got a chance to go out and throw on my visits home, and I decided that's what I wanted to do — stay clean, work hard and play baseball again."

Thus far this season, the slender senior southpaw is off to a sparkling 6-0 start with an ERA of less than 1.00, and the Golden Eagles have soared to a 15-2 record thus far.

"I'm sort of shocked," Nick said of his success. "I really didn't think I was going to be too good. I'm super excited about how we're doing."

Coach Miner looks at the scenario as a great win-win situation for Nick, the Golden Eagles' baseball team, the school and the community.

"We knew where he was going and what he was doing, and I'm just grateful that he has this opportunity," Miner said. "We can help him through his recovery process and he can certainly help us.

"He's a great kid and he's got a great arm, and we can throw him in our rotation so all the pressure doesn't have to be on one kid. We have three kids who can pitch and they've been able to help each other out and it's been fantastic."

Coach Miner knows this is about much, much more than winning baseball games, though — it's about winning in the bigger game of life.

"It took Nick some growing up to do, and we were all trying to support him," the Maple Mountain coach said. "He found himself in some difficult situations. It cost him his entire junior year, when he was in school but was ineligible because of grades.

"I think part of the recovery and the maturity he's shown is not hiding it and acknowledging the problem. It is was it is, and he's moving forward and doing what he needs to do. … Those substances are pretty darned addictive, and thankfully he's got a great support network in his family, neighbors and teammates. He had all those resources and yet it still took determination and Nick had to march through their (treatment) program.

"When he came back last October, his first day back I had the opportunity to talk to him and I could see it in his eyes," Miner said. "He's got a lot different perspective and it shows in what he's doing on the field and in the classroom. I told him he'd already had strike one and strike two, and this was going to be strike three. The world changes pretty dramatically and if he was going to accomplish those goals he set for himself, he had to have some opportunity to showcase what he could do. Well, he's certainly done his part and we're glad to have him back with us."

Yes, it appears this gritty Comeback Kid has, gratefully, made it all the way back.

email: rhollis@desnews.com