ON SPORTS: A&M-Kingsville pitcher gets back up to speed
Feb. 27, 2013 at 8 p.m.
Updated Feb. 26, 2013 at 8:27 p.m.
Dallas Ponder wasn't concerned when he began losing weight after arriving at Texas A&M-Kingsville for his freshman season.
Ponder wanted to drop a few pounds, and figured he was getting into better shape after participating in his first baseball practices at the school.
"For the first 10 or 15 pounds, I was liking it," Ponder said. "I actually had abs, and everything was looking good."
But Ponder kept losing weight, and he became concerned when he started feeling fatigued in practice.
"I ended up losing close to 40 pounds," he said. "I just felt weak and didn't want to move or do anything on the field but just stand in the outfield doing nothing. There were some days I felt all right, but most of the time I felt bad."
Ponder's father took his son to the doctor, where they learned Dallas was diabetic.
"They put me on insulin right away when I was in the hospital," Ponder said. "As soon as I started, I started getting all my weight back because a lot of it was dehydration, a lot of water weight. I got all my body weight back and all my strength."
The illness delayed the start of Ponder's freshman season, but he eventually worked himself into the Javelinas' starting rotation.
"His freshman year, he was real sick and was losing weight," said Jason Gonzales the coach at Texas A&M-Kingsville. "We found out he had diabetes. The fortunate thing is you can take care of that. He came back and has become the ace of our staff."
Ponder showed signs of the pitcher he had been at Flatonia, where he earned all-state honors and led the Bulldogs to the 2008 Class 1A state final, last season as a sophomore.
He pitched in 13 games and made eight starts while compiling a 4-1 record and 3.12 ERA.
He continued the success out of the bullpen for the Victoria Generals last summer, where he displayed a 90-plus mph fastball and a wicked slider that baffled Texas Collegiate League hitters.
"In the summer, I really enjoyed being a closer," Ponder said. "Most of the time, it was really hot and people wouldn't come out until the sun went down. Being the closer, it kind of pumped me up because you actually had fans in the stands, and there was a lot of crowd noise, and it just gets you going when the crowd is into it."
Gonzales considered using Ponder as a closer when he returned to Kingsville for his junior season but felt he would be more valuable in the starting rotation.
"He's had a lot of interest from a lot of scouts," Gonzales said. "He was throwing 93-94 last summer as the Generals closer. As a starter, his velocity won't be that high because we need him to throw longer."
Ponder has helped the Javelinas get off to a 10-3 start by going 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 22 innings.
Ponder has twice been named Lone Star Conference Pitcher of the Week, and he was recently named to the Tino Martinez Award watch list. The award is given to the top player in NCAA Division II baseball.
"I'm just going out there to win every game," Ponder said. "When I go out there, I expect myself to not even give up a hit. It happens, but I have high expectations."
Ponder wears an insulin pump and has been able to manage his diabetes by keeping fit and watching his diet.
"I can still eat whatever I want, but I've got to watch my carb intake so I can counter all the carbs with my insulin," he said. "I know a lot more about nutrition of food now.
"I feel great," he added. "Everything is back to normal. It's better than it was before. I guess that just comes with playing more and getting older and stronger."
Ponder didn't have his best stuff when he started the first game of Friday's doubleheader against UHV at Riverside Stadium.
But he pitched four innings and picked up the win.
"He's always going to be at his best when he's got runners in scoring position," Gonzales said. "He kind of dials it up a notch. He hadn't pitched in over 12 days, so there was a little rust involved in that. We've got to get him back on a regular schedule."
Ponder knows how he performs the rest of the season will determine where he is pitching next season.
But he is determined to keep his focus on his next start.
"I just try to block it all out," Ponder said. "When we were playing at Minute Maid Park, I knew there was going to be a lot of people there. It was a big stadium, and honestly, I didn't really notice I was playing in that nice of a place with all the people there and all of the scouts until I actually came out of the game and started looking around. I just kind of got in my zone and blocked everything out."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.