Pitcher finds role with baseball team


Junior pitcher Tanner Foster throws pitch in the Huskies’ 6-3 home loss Friday against the University of Toledo Rockets. 

By Roland Hacker

Junior pitcher Tanner Foster began the 2018 season as the fourth starting pitcher in the rotation for the baseball team, but has since transitioned to anchoring the top of the rotation. Foster as opening day starter is a great fit for him and for the team.

“When we recruited him, he was a junior college guy, [and] we had expectations that he was going to pitch on Fridays or Saturdays for us,” said Head Coach Mike Kunigonis. “But he suffered an injury in the fall, a freak accident on his glove hand. He didn’t get the reps in the fall that we would have liked him to have.”

Foster said he had minimal difficulties making the transition to being the team’s ace.

“I wasn’t where I wanted to be at the beginning of the season,” Foster said. “I was coming off an injury, breaking my hand, so I couldn’t throw in the fall. The coaches didn’t really know what I had because I was a junior college guy. I think it drove me more by not being the Friday [starter].”

Foster said he likes being the guy to start the weekend and set the tone for the series.

“He’s pitching on Fridays for a reason,” Kunigonis said. “Tanner gives us that confidence that we’re going to show up on Friday and win.”

Foster’s journey to the top of NIU’s rotation started long before he became a Huskie. He played at Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, Iowa, after pitching in high school.

Foster gave high praise to individuals who helped him along his journey. First, his high school coaches, especially Ethan Westphal, a professional baseball player that acted as Foster’s pitching coach in college. In junior college, his head coach Justin Schulte made an impact as well.

“I’ve got to give [thanks] to Ethan Westphal,” Foster said. “Also, I wanted to mention my junior college head coach Justin Schulte. I’ve never been around a guy that knows as much about baseball as [Schulte.]”

Foster boasts a 2.33 ERA in 12 appearances and 69.2 innings pitched. He has struck out 76 batters through the season and walked just 22 batters. Foster only has two wins to show for his good work and strong underlying statistics.

“Depending on the hitter, because that plays a big part, in general I’m just trying to get ahead [in the count,]” Foster said. “I want to make a good pitch, not right down the middle, but a good pitch to get ahead. From there, the sky is the limit. I have a few pitches I can go to that I feel confident with deep in a count. If I get ahead of a batter, it makes it that much easier.”

Foster’s consistency is his greatest strength. He has given up more than two earned runs just twice.

“You know what you’re going to get from him,” Kunigonis said. “He’s a competitor. It doesn’t matter what the score is or what’s going on; The kid wants to win and he wants his team to win. He’s a great team guy.”

Before he takes the mound, Foster said he goes through a routine that starts the night before. He gets to bed early, and sleeps in on the day of the game. Foster makes sure he eats a big breakfast and a big lunch, depending on when the game starts.

Once Foster gets to the ballpark, his routine continues.

“Honestly, my ritual is just getting stretched out and playing long toss,” Foster said. “Before the game, the catcher plays catch with me. For me, it seems like my ball moves different almost every day. We talk about that after warming up, to see what’s working well. Usually it’s my two-seam [fastball] or sinker.”

Foster is only half of the impressive one-two surprise combination at the top of the NIU pitching rotation. Freshman Michael Lasiewicz has also moved his way up in the rotation. Lasiewicz has a 2.63 ERA through his first eleven starts.

“The one-two punch of [Foster] and Lasiewicz is the best in the league,” Kunigonis said. “It’s a least in the top two, if not the best.”

With the season coming to a close, look for Foster to continue getting the Huskies off to a good weekend start and for him to lead them in his senior season in 2019.