Published: August 14, 2013
On 19 occasions during this past baseball season, David Baska crowded the plate and allowed himself to be hit by a pitch.
That total easily set an Air Force school record.
"Those 90 mph fastballs, they hurt for a little bit," Baska said. "But the risk-reward benefit, to bust my arm a few times to get a bag is perfectly fine."
That's a mentality that would work perfectly on the football field as well. And sure enough, Baska stars there too, as Air Force's punter.
Baska complements that toughness with a set of physical tools that are nearly without equal on the Falcons' team - certainly among its specialists. He boasts a 39-inch vertical, can run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, has played on the academy's men's volleyball team and last year was given some time as a backup cornerback.
"It's really, really a plus," Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said. "You're talking about one of the best athletes on your football team is our punter and our holder. It just allows you to be a little more creative in certain ways."
Baska often wishes he could continue to play a position in addition to punter. But he's also determined to improve at that skill and find consistency that he lacked last year. After leading the nation in punting for the first several weeks, a pair of poor kicks into a crosswind against Army sent his entire season into a tailspin.
It's not that Baska's season was a statistical nightmare. He averaged 39.2 yards per punt with a long of 71 against Michigan and 11 inside the 20. Five of his kicks traveled longer than 50 yards.
His success this past baseball season might help those numbers improve.
Playing in 53 games last season, he batted .304 with 20 extra-base hits. Most importantly, in playing his first full collegiate season after first walking onto the team as a junior, he saw what it took to perform on a daily basis.
"It's been a learning experience," he said.
The entire academy experience has been a learning process for Baska. Academic problems early on cost him a semester and put him on pace to graduate this December rather that this past May.
That extra time gives him one more football season.
"That's where I struggled early on was with academics, but the coaching staff and the people we work with on a daily basis understand that and they've been through it," he said. "I was fortunate that they kept me around as long as they did. Now I've got four or five months and then I get to be a second lieutenant in the Air Force."
If his mental toughness translates perfectly from baseball to football, just imagine how it might serve in that next role.