When Bayden Root arrived at Ohio State to start practice with the Buckeye baseball team in 2018, he had a decision to make. A fan of OSU and Cleveland sports teams growing up, the Kokomo High School product mulled his options.
“I had been 27 my whole life. Number 27 is actually retired at Ohio State,” Root said. “With LeBron [James] being my favorite athlete of all time, when he left Cleveland and went to Miami he switched to No. 6.”
Decision made. Root was making a move of his own, and figured he may as go forth with James’ No. 6 on his back.
Root pitched the 2019 spring season as part of an Ohio State squad which won the Big Ten Tournament before falling in the regional round of NCAA play. He threw in 20 games for OSU as a freshman — all in relief — then made six more appearances as a sophomore before the NCAA stopped the season in mid March in response to the spread of coronavirus.
That’s where Root’s path hit a detour. He’d planned on making a strong impression as a sophomore and setting himself up for his next step.
“I was a draft-eligible sophomore this year. I had a great offseason [in 2019] and I felt this year was going to be my breakout year,” Root said. “I had meetings with 20-to-25 teams during the fall and winter and I was looking to being able to get one step closer to chasing my dreams and playing in the major leagues.”
With pro baseball shut down as well, Major League Baseball cut its draft from a planned 40 rounds to just five, so the future is on hold for hundreds of potential draft candidates. What Root expected to get out of his spring and summer changed and he had to find new ways to stay sharp for baseball and get ready for fall at Ohio State.
“I’ve been training down at Pro X [in Westfield] for a majority of the quarantine,” Root said. “I’ve been training with Jamey Gordon [Pro X’s director of athlete development] since my sophomore year of high school. After our [college] school season I was planning on going to the Cape Cod league. Obviously that was canceled.”
Root threw for the Kokomo Jackrabbits last season but the Jackrabbit’s season is off too, so he found a spot in the College Summer League at Grand Park. The league operates in the same complex that houses the Pro X facility. Pro X is Kokomo native and former MLB pitcher Joe Thatcher’s project. Root opened with an inning in the league and plans to expand his outings an inning at a time with each appearance in the league.
“It’s worked out awesome and I’m super thankful for the opportunity to come here and play,” Root said. “There’s a lot of competitive teams here, there’s a lot of great players from universities all around the Midwest and some guys from other places in the country too. It was something that was created on the fly I think, but it’s turned out to be probably one of the best summer leagues in the country now.”
Root was able to get into a training routine quickly when campus shut down and players went home in March. While not playing a season in the spring wasn’t ideal, he’s been able to make a productive spring and summer from home.
He took a picture of the fitness equipment his family has in the basement at home and sent it to OSU strength coach Dean Hansen, who made an individual workout plan for him. His father, Derek, a former professional who played in three major league organizations, is his throwing partner. OSU pitching coach Dan DeLucia and Hansen have been in regular contact with players, which gives Root confidence that the offseason is going as well as it could.
“Now that a lot of us are able to go back to our facilities we’ve been able to do just about everything we’d do at school,” Root said. “I just want to get my body in the best shape possible, getting as game-ready as I can for the fall. I’m most likely going to be in the starting rotation this year and that’s what I’m working on is being able to throw three pitches for strikes and getting outs on three pitches. The biggest thing is getting innings and being able to get out there and preparing for the fall.”
Root hopes to transition into being a starter after working as a reliever previously. He had an ERA of 5.14 in 35 innings while being used in middle relief as a freshman, and an ERA of 5.23 in 10 1/3 innings as a sophomore. Four of his six outings this past spring were as Ohio State’s final pitcher. He’s got Ohio State’s only save of the season and had an ERA of 2.70 in OSU’s closing role.
Root explained how a college staff was structured. The ace of the staff usually pitches Friday’s series opener, with Saturday and Sunday the next most important dates. Getting a weekend spot is his goal for his junior season.
“I plan on going in and competing for the starting rotation and getting in as our Saturday or Sunday starter this season,” Root said.
If all goes on schedule, he’ll be draft-eligible again in 2021 and hopes to start a professional career.
Until then, he’ll keep soaking up time in the Ohio State jersey.
“You’re around your teammates and coaches for six, seven hours a day and It’s truly a different bond than you have with anybody else,” Root said about what he likes about being a Buckeye. “Being able to go out and get on the field and wear the block O, Ohio State block O on your chest and looking at the people that have been in our university, I take great pride in that. My dad’s from Ohio so I’ve been an Ohio State fan my whole life. It gives me chills every time I go on the field [and] I get to wear that Ohio State jersey.”