Thriving Through Adversity: An Eventful Year for Christian Peters
By Luke Kilgore
It has been quite the year for University of Portland sophomore and Centralia High School alum Christian Peters. From the day-to-day grind of a student athlete, to having his entire future in question, he has knocked down barriers of adversity and thrived in and out of the classroom.
As a relief pitcher for the Pilots, every day is consumed by sports and academics. Even at the time of the Chronicle’s interview with Peters, he was in a bus en route to pitch on behalf of the Cowlitz Black Bears as they faced off against the Port Angeles Lefties.
There was about ten days of difference between the end of the Pilots’ season and the beginning of collegiate summer ball for the Black Bears. The grind never stops.
“It was nice to go home for a few days and see your family,” Peters said. “But even during that time, I still played catch. I had to be ready.”
Although there is constant travel and workouts, things are much better for Peters than they were just four months ago.
In February, a week before the opening series against UCLA, near-tragedy struck. While shagging baseballs in batting practice, Peters was struck in the left temple with a zooming line drive.
He was hospitalized and diagnosed with a completely fractured left temporal bone. Peters had to undergo surgery, where a titanium plate was placed in the side of his head to reconstruct the bone.
If the point of impact had been an inch to either the left or right, the strike could have been fatal. Even with the placement where it was, doctors were at first unsure if Peters could ever take the mound again.
The worries soon dissipated, and he was eventually allowed to go back to work for the Pilots. After missing five weeks of action, Peters returned with just one caveat—he had to wear a protective mask.
Naturally, the mask became a gimmick of sorts, but University of Portland’s newest folk hero isn’t fazed by any of the creative comparisons.
“Oh, I’ve heard it all,” Peters chuckled. “From Batman to the Phantom of the Opera and the Mask jokes. I’ve even been compared to (Joel) Embiid of the 76ers, but I’m kind of used to it.”
The biggest downside of the mask isn’t a visibility issue, but rather a temperature problem. Being jet black and made of carbon fiber, wearing it on hot summer days can be brutal, and those days are just getting started.
“It definitely gets super hot, but it’s not too bad,” Peters said. “I just take it off in between innings.”
Even with the missed time due to injury, Peters stepped up and improved on his freshman campaign. By the end of the season, Peters had tallied a 2-0 record, 19 strikeouts, and a .247 opposing batting average in just 19.2 innings of work and 11 appearances. He attained career highs in a majority of his statistical categories, partly due to his adjusted role this year.
With new pitching coach Connor Lambert, the Pilots have converted Peters into a back end setup man, a relief pitcher that enters in the waning innings to extend the game and allow the closer to slam the door in the ninth frame and earn the win. The coaching staff has also done work to alter Peters’ arm angle on his pitches.
Now in a position where he’s working two or three innings at the most, Peters has adjusted to approaching his mound visits as a sprint, rather than a marathon.
“I get to come in with adrenaline and set our guys up in a good spot,” Peters said. “I like it a lot actually. You just have to get mentally prepared to give it everything you have and learn to bounce back after a rough outing, because you have to get right back out there the next day.”
Through it all, Peters still put the classroom first. As a business major, he finished his sophomore year with a cumulative 3.78 GPA.
His outstanding work ethic as a student athlete garnered recognition, as Peters was one of 13 players to be chosen for the West Coast Conference Baseball All-Academic Team.
It has been difficult to maintain such a high standard of excellence, but Peters credits his professors, teammates and cooperation as keys to getting there.
“It’s a lot of communication with other guys on the team and professors,” Peters said. “It’s a lot of late nights and early mornings, but mainly it’s keeping a good relationship with your professors. As long as you’re not afraid to reach out, they will work with you.”
Peters wasn’t the only Pilot honored for their work in academia, as four of his teammates were named honorable mentions on the WCC All-Academic Team. The learning culture ushered by coaches and enforced by his peers keeps Peters and company on top of classwork.
“We try to push each other in the classroom and our coaches really preach performing there,” Peters said. “The guys try to be the best they can be and professors are willing to work with them if they see that.”
In his second year in Portland, things come much easier to a more comfortable Peters. He’s not in a dorm anymore, instead living in a house with his best friends—his teammates.
“I get to live in my own house and have all my friends there,” Peters happily remarked. “I know what to expect from both a baseball and a classroom standpoint. You learn to manage your time better, that’s the biggest thing.”
For now and through the middle of August, Peters is focused on upping his game further with the Black Bears. From there, he will be back in Portland in late August for the start of fall ball.
He will then work out and improve his craft in the winter months before getting ready for his junior campaign, where he and the Pilots will look to raise the bar from the 23-30 overall, middle-of-the-pack finish from this season.
Indeed, the grind never stops—but that’s just the way Christian Peters likes it.