March 29, 2006
As if facing a guy standing 6-3 and throwing 90 miles per hour off the mound wasn't enough. When opposing batters get in the box against Gonzaga University closer Cory Powell they get the added pleasure of facing a guy whose face they can't even see.
Powell appears on the mound wearing a helmet with a face shield on it that would remind spectators more of watching a Little League game than a Division I baseball contest. But wearing the unique attire is something that Powell has had to adapt to since he was a junior in high school.
During his junior season at Borah High School in Boise, Idaho, Powell took a ball in the face that forever changed his appearance on the field. For the remainder of his baseball life he must pitch, play the infield or bat with the special helmet in place. Something that has not come easy for a guy who played third base and pitched in high school to earn All-Southern Idaho Conference first-team honors as a junior and senior.
"The helmet took time to adjust to," said Powell during a recent conversation. "It just kept on moving every time I would throw a pitch. I really had to adjust to having the bars in front of my face."
Adjusting to the helmet is also something opposing team's have had to do. Prior to his relief appearance during a home game against Dartmouth College, Dartmouth head coach Bob Whalen had to double check with the home plate umpire just to make sure it was a regulation piece of equipment.
"I think the helmet is something that gives me a little edge on the mound," Powell added. "It's something different. Our hitters (Gonzaga) didn't know what to think the first time they saw me wear it this fall."
A two-way player throughout high school and during his first year at Treasure Valley Community College, Powell has moved into the role of the Bulldogs closer this season. He was penciled in as a possible outfielder for Gonzaga in the fall and early spring, but back issues with his swing caused him to focus more on the pitching aspect this season. At TVCC he was a first-team All-Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges selection hitting .348 while posting a 1.59 ERA on the mound.
Powell decided to attend Gonzaga on a leap of faith, knowing that he would get a great educational opportunity along with the chance to play at a top level program.
"Gonzaga was the first school to recruit me during my first year at Treasure Valley," said Powell. "I never met any of the coaches before deciding to come here, but I talked with Will Ayala and Nick Merriman (both current GU teammates) about the program and they said it would be a great fit. I knew they had a great program and had some great players come from Treasure Valley to play there."
Now that Powell has settled into his role as the team's closer, he must now make the adjustment from being an everyday player to a collegiate closer where appearances don't necessarily come on a routine basis. This season Powell has made 7 appearances in the Bulldogs first 27 games picking up one save and posting a 0.00 ERA.
"I still approach every game with the same mentality," Powell stated. "You never know what game or situation you will have to pitch in. You have to have a tough approach and not be scared of anything."
When asked if he had any closing thoughts about the uniqueness of wearing a helmet and shield on the mound, Powell joked "I'm the one guy on the team who never gets issued a team hat."