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Home Sweet Home

The feeling of coming home to where it all started is hard to replace in sports.

Following years of long nights under the lights spent pursuing a Division I baseball scholarship, that unique feeling has come to life for Chinooks starting pitcher Tommy Lamb this season.

“It’s awesome,” Lamb said prior to his first home start on June 7. “I know that there’s going to be a lot of fans out there tonight that I know, so it’s just an awesome feeling just to get to come back and play in front of those people.”

A native of Grafton, Wisconsin, Lamb attended Grafton High School where he flourished into the No. 5-ranked player in the state, all while making invaluable memories.

It was a high school career to never forget, having registered a 17-4 record with a 2.50 ERA prior to being named the Black Hawks’ MVP in 2019.

“I played one year when it changed to spring, so I only got one year with coach [Brian] Durst and the program,” Lamb said. “But you know it was just a great time. A lot different than travel baseball, a little bit more relaxed; I got to have fun with the guys.”

As his high school days began to wind down, the 6-foot southpaw had plenty of offers for where he could next call home.

“It was really just a challenge,” Lamb said of his decision to play at the University of Oklahoma for coach Skip Johnson, the former Texas pitching coach who helped the Longhorns to three College World Series appearances while producing 32 pitchers taken in the MLB Draft. “You know, I could’ve gone a lot of other places. But I felt like I wanted to be challenged.”

Upon his arrival to Norman, Oklahoma, a challenge awaited Lamb having not earned an immediate starting role as Lamb spent his freshman season working out of the Sooners’ bullpen through four appearances.

“I didn’t want to go in and be guaranteed anything,” Lamb said of his initial expectations. “I wanted to fight and get a spot.”

But when it came to determining where he would be playing summer ball not too long after the start of the 2021 college season, Lamb did not think too hard on where that would ultimately be. A spot in the Chinooks’ rotation awaited him.

And his parents, who had watched their son commute over 900 miles to begin the next chapter of his baseball career, were elated to have the chance to watch him take the mound in person once again.

“They were really excited,” Lamb said. “Being in Oklahoma, they didn’t get to travel as much to see me pitch in those four appearances, but they got to watch online. I think the big thing coming here is that they get to see me pitch and other people get to see me pitch that wouldn’t have at Oklahoma.”

With five starts behind him, progress has continued to mount for Lamb who has remained physically and mentally driven while receiving important mentorship from a former Northwoods League pitcher himself.

“We’ve had conversations in the dugout during the games and stuff like that,” Lamb said of his developing relationship with Chinooks pitching coach Ryan Colegate. “I think he’s gonna be a really good guy since he was a similar pitcher to me that I can just pick his brain and see what he did as a professional player.”

Colegate, who pitched for the Kalamazoo Growlers prior to being drafted in 36th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, has the blueprint laid out for the young hurler.

“We’ll raise the pitch count as we go on, we’re just not trying to [do that] early in the summer,” Colegate said. “Just get him the fastball command, and then just pound the zone pretty much.”

After shining in his third start at Wisconsin Rapids in an 11-0 rout, Lamb has remained confident in his potential as a starter in addition to the Chinooks pitching staff’s collective development and chemistry.

“My mindset going into the game was first pitch strikes and pound the zone,” Lamb said after holding the Rafters to three hits and without a run. “Even though I wasn’t great at throwing first pitch strikes, I was able to avoid deep counts by getting outs early in counts. The pitching staff is coming into its own and good pitching is contagious.”

The homegrown talent then went on to set a new season-high in strikeouts with seven against the Green Bay Booyah the following week, continuing to impress the team’s coaching staff.

“Lamb battled,” Chinooks field manager Travis Akre said. “He’s gotten stronger each time out.”

“I was able to stay locked in by staying in the mindset of staying pitch-for-pitch,” Lamb said.

Remembering his individual goal of cracking the starting rotation as a collegian, Lamb has kept the necessary mindset for both the near and distant future.

“Really just to go out there, compete, get innings, and win games for us,” Lamb said. “I think the big thing was in the college [season] I was lacking innings, and I think I’ll get those innings here. As I keep getting more starts, my arm will get stronger and getting back into that starting role; getting the stamina back and stuff like that.”

Hoping to carry the high number of pitches into his second collegiate season, Lamb knew it was time to make a long-term decision. Although he had verbally committed to spending four years at L. Dale Mitchell Baseball Park — the home of Oklahoma Sooners baseball — as a high school sophomore in February 2018, a new start was on the horizon.

As Lamb quoted on social media Sunday, “One door closes, another opens,” signifying that his time as an Oklahoma Sooner had drawn to a close upon his decision to transfer to Creighton.

“Being able to go to a school like Creighton and play baseball at a high level will be a great opportunity and I’m very excited,” Lamb said.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome this season, Lamb’s objective each outing is simple: improve and battle through each pitch.

“He just battled, that’s the name of the game,” Colegate said after Lamb’s second start. “You just gotta grind it out, like fall behind, get a few runners on, and just battle through it.”

Whether he locks down lineups or allows a few early runs, Lamb remains eager for future starts while right down the road from his roots, in preparation for what awaits him at Creighton.

“I think the biggest thing for us as a squad is that we are starting to gel as a team,” Lamb said. “On top of that, we just have to take these games one day at a time, it’s a long summer ahead and these home games coming up are a great opportunity to jump to the top of the league standings.”

Having earned a team-most five starts, Lamb is expected to start again for the Chinooks on the road this weekend versus the Booyah or Woodchucks.

Editor’s note: Creighton University Athletics declined a request for an interview with the Creighton baseball coaching staff due to NCAA compliance rules, which state that no comment can be made by any university employee on a prospective student-athlete until documented authorization is provided.