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Chirpich commits to D-I baseball program

EXIT TO TEXAS — North Iowa Area Community College starter Spencer Chirpich fires a pitch to the plate during regular-season junior college baseball action earlier this spring. The former Fairmont High School standout has accepted a scholarship to play baseball for Division I program Abilene Christian next spring. (Photo courtesy of Randy Chirpich)

FAIRMONT — Four years ago, Spencer Chirpich tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm.

Chirpich’s road to recovery has taken a number of twists and turns in the process, but the North Iowa Area Community College redshirt sophomore’s persistence and hard work recently paid dividends on June 21.

The former Fairmont High School three-sport standout made a commitment on Twitter that day to accept an offer to play baseball for NCAA Division I program Abilene Christian University next spring in Abilene, Texas.

“Coach (Rick) McCarty saw me throw when he was the pitching coach at Dallas Baptist University and they were recruiting me at the time,” said Chirpich, who became the 32nd NIACC baseball player to sign with a Division I program during Travis Hergert’s six-year reign at the junior college powerhouse Trojans’ helm. “When he (McCarty) was hired as the head coach in Abilene, I knew that’s where I wanted to go next.

“I like his pitching philosophy, so I had to wait for him to make the transition between schools and take over Abilene Christian’s official duties on June 20.”

Chirpich, who’s still on pace to earn his bachelor’s degree in elementary education by the time his collegiate eligibility expires in two years, will make his exit from Minnesota to the great state of Texas a couple of days before fall classes begin on Aug. 27.

“Hopefully, with McCarty, I can keep developing the mental aspect of my game, while hitting the weight room in order to get bigger and stronger physically, and put a few more miles per hour on my fastball along the way,” said Chirpich. “Those are some of the keys to reaching the next level.”

When asked if it was his life-long dream to suit up for a major league baseball team, the hard-throwing Chirpich grinned and then paused for a second.

“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the majors, isn’t it?” said Chirpich, who is still among the top 10 in numerous statistical categories in both pitching in baseball and passing in football at Fairmont High School. “All I know is that you play the game (baseball) as long as you can because one day someone will tell you that you can’t play it anymore.”

Ironically, that was almost a real-life scenario for Chirpich after his junior prep sports campaign in the summer of 2014.

Chirpich earned the label as the ‘can’t miss’ baseball prospect by numerous college scouts, area prep coaches, teammates, fans and the southern Minnesota media after he stepped to the mound at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud as a freshman.

Chirpich utilized a blistering fastball, diving curveball and deceiving change-up to fire a five-hit complete game to guide the Cardinals to a 3-2 state quarterfinal victory over Roseau. He struck out five and walked two in his stately debut to eventually earn Class 2A all-state tournament accolades in 2012.

The hard-throwing phenom then tossed a four-hit complete-game shutout to power Fairmont to a 7-0 state quarterfinal win over Aitkin two years later in St. Cloud.

The 2014 all-state tournament choice guided the Cardinals to the Class 2A championship game against St. Cloud Cathedral that spring, but the Crusaders converted a four-run top of the seventh inning — helped by a Fairmont error — into a 5-4 comeback win to deny Chirpich a state title — the first of a number of setbacks to come.

Despite the injury to his arm, Chirpich closed out his high school career as a four-time all-conference, all-section and Sentinel All-Area selection on the diamond.

The 2015 Minnesota High School Baseball All-Star Series choice then joined the Minnesota State University, Mankato baseball program that fall, but had to undergo Tommy John surgery to fix his UCL.

Chirpich’s rehab proved long and laborious, and he eventually opted to follow in the footsteps of his former prep teammates — Luke and Levi Becker — by packing his spikes and transferring to NIACC in Mason City, Iowa.

Helgert and the Trojans’ coaching staff steered Chirpich onto the right rehabilitation path, and the redshirt freshman compiled a 4-5 record and 6.39 ERA behind 38 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings of work during the 2017 diamond campaign.

“Travis, (assistant) Will (Arnold) and the rest of the coaching staff really believed in me and got me back on the right track,” said Chirpich.

The pride of Fairmont continued making big strides on the mound in 2018, compiling a 6-2 record in 10 starts to complement a much-improved 3.50 ERA and one save on the strength of 67 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings of work.

“Travis thought this spring that my velocity was getting close to being back to where it was before my surgery,” said Chirpich.

Arnold, who serves as the manager of the Lafayette Aviators in the summertime, kept the process moving in the right direction by having Chirpich pitch in the West Division of the summer collegiate prospect league in Lafayette, Indiana, this June.

“I played for the Aviators for about a month and pitched four games for them. I went 0-2 with two no-decisions, but it actually helped me overall as there was definitely a difference in the level of competition I was facing,” said Chirpich. “The best part of the summer down there was learning how to keep my arm in shape and how to stay sharp in between starts.

“Playing in Indiana has helped me learn HOW to be a better pitcher.”

Chirpich will have two full years of college eligibility and looks to make the most of his opportunity at the Division I level.

“My last start, I was throwing in the upper 80s (mph) and even touched the low 90s a number of times, so it’s good to see my velocity is finally coming back,” said Chirpich. “Just as important, my breaking ball and change have been working well, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

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