Perseverance Pays Off: The Eli Ottinger Story
HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - When the James Madison baseball team needs a big performance from its bullpen, there’s a good chance the Dukes will hand the ball to Eli Ottinger.
Ottinger has been one of James Madison’s most reliable relievers this season, pitching often in high-leverage situations late in games.
“It’s been tremendous,” said JMU pitching coach Jimmy Jackson. “He’s one of those guys that we always thought could be that guy. Or, if not, be a weekend starter for us.”
Ottinger currently ranks second on the team with 16 appearances this spring. He has tossed 26.0 innings, racking up 23 strikeouts, and posting an ERA of 3.46.
“I wanted come back for my fifth year and make an impact on this team and I feel like I am doing that right now,” said Ottinger.
While spectators see Ottinger perform well on the mound this spring, many probably don’t know what he’s had to overcome in order to pitch for the Dukes.
“His mental fortitude is special,” said JMU head coach Marlin Ikenberry. “He works through all those things and then he goes out there and proves to his teammates that he can pitch at this level. We knew that in recruiting him that he could pitch at this level. It was just a matter of getting him healthy and getting him on the field to perform.”
Ottinger didn’t see time on the mound at JMU until his third season with the program. He medically redshirted as a freshman and sophomore after undergoing procedures to repair a hip labrum injury and torn meniscus in his right knee along with Tommy John Surgery to fix a UCL injury in his pitching arm.
He pitched in four games in 2020 before the season was shut down early due to COVID-19. In 2021, Ottinger appeared in 11 games during a season that was disrupted multiple times due to COVID-19. It was during last spring that Ottinger also suffered another, serious injury.
“I was also dealing with a back injury which turned out to be a herniated disk at the end of the year,” said Ottinger. “So there again, trying to overcome some adversity. Kind of like why is this going on?”
Despite another setback with his health, Ottinger decided to return to JMU for a fifth season in 2022 and his perseverance in paying off. His performance out of the bullpen has helped the Dukes to a 23-18 overall record and 9-6 mark in CAA play (as of April 29).
“The way that he is able to make pitches in big-time games for us is incredible considering what he has gone through,” said JMU graduate pitcher Nick Stewart, who is one of Ottinger’s closest friends on the team. “And it’s really just awesome to see that he never gave up. He easily coulda hung up the cleats and said he was done and moved on with his life. But he came back for the fifth year and it’s going great for him. I am real proud of him.”
Ottinger says he won’t pursue a professional baseball career once his time with the Dukes is over. He’s thankful for the time he’s spent in a JMU jersey and wants to finish out the 2022 season strong.
“It’s been great,” said Ottinger. “I feel like this year, more than any, the team is extremely tight. I feel like we haven’t had a better group of guys out here. Just the way everyone gets along, the way everyone jokes with each other. I feel like it’s extremely unique and something I am just so happy to be a part of.”
James Madison is on the road for a three-game series at Presbyterian this weekend. The teams are scheduled to play a doubleheader on Saturday.
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