It’s common for college athletes to be the best player on their high school teams.
Baseball is no exception, yet it is among the most difficult sports for 18-year-olds to master as they move into the next phase of their careers.
Gonzaga’s Nick Nyquist was the Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year his senior year in 2013-14 while playing for Coeur d’Alene High School. That year he hit .506 with six home runs and 34 RBIs.
But the same plate presence didn’t materialize as much as Nyquist would have hoped or expected in his first three years in a Bulldogs uniform.
“It has been a roller-coaster ride, for sure,” Nyquist said. “Just what coach (Mark) Machtolf preaches. Whatever role he gives you for the day, you need to be the best at it to help the team win. I think it is a great thing to live by in everyday life and a great thing to live by in baseball, because there are only nine guys who can play at a time and when you have players like we do here, it is pretty tough to get into the lineup.”
While it may be a hard attribute to practice, patience is a virtue.
“More of the message is, and it might sound a little callous, you just have to keep working,” Machtolf said. “We’re not infallible by any stretch of the imagination, but if you keep working and don’t feel sorry for yourself, the game will reward you.”
And it has been rewarding for the redshirt senior in 2019.
Heading into the weekend series against San Francisco, Nyquist was batting .308 with eight home runs and six stolen bases. His .615 slugging percentage is third in the West Coast Conference and his eight home runs are fourth in the conference.
“He’s making more consistent contact,” Machtolf said of Nyquist. “He’s hitting the ball to the middle of the diamond as well as anybody, and he has really improved at first base. He has had a very tremendous amount of clutch hits for our team and has just done a great job.”
Nyquist has changed his approach and has tried to hit the ball hard every at-bat this season. He is not trying to hit home runs every swing, but he also isn’t holding back. Instead, he is letting his confidence flow as he sprays balls all over the field and over the fence.
“Putting the ball in play is always a plus for the team and just keeping it as simple as possible, because if you try and make this game complex, it will eat you alive,” Nyquist said.
The Coeur d’Alene native also has some surprising wheels with a team-high six stolen bases, top in the WCC for first basemen. His power hitting also strains opposing pitchers and defenses.
“It is huge for us with the power. It puts pressure on hitters a couple different ways,” Machtolf said. “And then when he’s on base he has the ability to not only steal second, but third base.”
Redshirt junior Jack Krauel and Nyquist have been roommates on the road this season. Krauel said he had been waiting for Nyquist to break out.
“We see it in practice every day. He could be starting at almost any school in the county just with his talent caliber and the guy he is,” Krauel said. “Every summer for summer ball he goes to Walla Walla and he hits like .350 with 10 jacks and just goes off. We’re just like, ‘This is the year Nyquist is going to get his shot,’ and it hasn’t come, but this year it finally has and he has taken it and ran.”
Machtolf was quick to point out that even though Nyquist only hit .246 over his three seasons at GU, he had been instrumental for the club as someone he could trust to deliver a quality performance even if he didn’t see his name on the lineup card on a consistent basis.
The lack of playing time shouldn’t be a knock on the player as most players struggle to carve out significant roles right away.
“I think it is tough – it is tough,” Machtolf said. “Some guys handle it better than others. Some guys – and I would say most guys – don’t surface to the extent Nick has. So that is really a testimony to the type of unselfishness and type of character he is.
It is a tough sell for baseball programs to tell a player he may not play as much or possibly need to redshirt. A lot of teams preach trusting the process, even if that process means sacrificing some individual accolades for the betterment of the team.
“For player development and everything, (GU) is top of the charts,” Nyquist said. “I think they do a great job at developing players and getting them ready to play every day, and I wouldn’t change my experience here for the world.”
Nyquist is one of six redshirt seniors and one of 14 redshirt players on the roster. The Bulldogs use their redshirt flexibility as they build their team from season to season. For a player like Nyquist, it could have been an easy excuse to drop his head or give up on the process.
“That is huge with our program and it is a testimony to his character,” Machtolf said. “He is just a great kid, a great unselfish teammate, really the type of player that makes Gonzaga thrive. Just really proud of the way he has stuck with and he is being rewarded with it this year.”
His unselfishness granted him the job at first base after Jake Vieth graduated. Vieth also left behind a power void that Nyquist filled.
Krauel said Nyquist was a daunting presence when he first met him his freshman year, but in reality, it’s all smoke.
“When I first got here, I shook his hand and I weighed a buck 40 and he was this 215-pound beast and I was so scared of the guy,” Krauel said. “He is a sweetheart. People might be scared of him just because of how big he is and how intimidating he might look, but he is a super nice guy, one of my better friends, and he has made my life at Gonzaga awesome.”
Now that he has settled in and producing for the Bulldogs, Nyquist has had some time to think about his time in Spokane.
“It has been just about everything I can ask for. It has been a dream,” Nyquist said. “Just having a team of 35 guys who have your back, it is pretty special here and I don’t think it is like that in most places around the country.”
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