Life will throw you a curveball sometimes. Nick Owens had everything ahead of him as a rising high school baseball star at Charlotte Christian High School. He had just competed in the Powerade State Games following his junior year, an All-Star game for high school players, before a mysterious illness began to cripple him.
Owens started to feel weak and feeble and didn’t think much of it. Pretty soon though, Owens’ weight began to drop dramatically, and he was vomiting every 30 minutes.
“It ended up being more serious than we initially thought,” Owens said. “We went to the hospital and I ended up getting transferred to Duke Medical and spent like a month there.”
Doctors were able to tell the Marvin, North Carolina native later that he was suffering from gastroparesis, a condition where “the stomach just kind of paralyzes itself” according to Owens. Ultimately, Owens was able to recover and was cleared to be released from the medical center. Still, he missed the entire summer, when he could have been improving his game.
The talented shortstop wasn’t a hundred percent for his senior season, but he still finished on a high note and prepared for a career at NC State. Owens arrived at NC State at full health, but still needed some time for development. As a result, it was decided that Owens would redshirt in 2015.
“Everyone comes in as a freshman thinking that they’re going to be the next Trea Turner, start freshman year, and get drafted,” Owens said. “It just kind of makes you work harder when things don’t go the way you plan it.”
During his redshirt season, Owens took the time to learn more about the game from the other talented players around him.
“You learn a lot obviously, being in the ACC,” Owens said. “We had older guys like Logan Rutledge, Jake Fincher, and Trea Turner and Carlos Rodon were there in the fall. Just listening to the way they talk and the way that they go about themselves, it’s different than high school for sure.”
Owens’ redshirt year at NC State was valuable, but eventually he decided it was best to head south to a junior college. He ended up at St. John’s River State College in Palatka, Florida. In his two years there, Owens was named a two-time Mid-Florida All-Conference selection and earned Florida JUCO State All-Tournament Team honors in 2016.
“Going to junior college isn’t always the best viewed thing, but now I have a completely different view of it,” Owens said. “I think it’s one of the best routes for people to go. It brings it back to the simple things of the game. It just kind of makes it simple and fun again. It’s almost like you’re a kid playing again.”
After a two-year pitstop in Florida, the shortstop fulfilled his dream of playing Division I baseball again by signing with Virginia Tech. It’s been a long journey, but all the roadblocks along the way have only strengthened Owens’ resolve. This year, Owens replaced Ryan Tufts, who finished his Virginia Tech career with 110 straight starts at shortstop. Owens is fourth on the Hokies with a .283 batting average and second on the team with a .425 on base percentage.
“It’s just something about Virginia Tech that stuck out to me,” Owens said. “I don’t know if it was the culture of it or just the ACC, it was an accumulation of all those things. I ended up making the right decision. I love it here and love the guys.
“It just all shows that hard work can pay off. You just keep fighting for what you believe in and what you want. Things will end up working out or not, you just have to give it your all. Every opportunity you get, you have to take advantage of it.”
As the Hokies battle for a berth in the ACC Tournament, Owens is determined to keep fighting off the curveballs that come his way at the plate and in life.