Christian Wilkinson Takes Nothing for Granted

About eight months ago, Christian Wilkinson was looking forward to having a great senior year on the mound and was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to play collegiate baseball. He was prepping for both opportunities through summer league baseball and a rigorous training routine – until he was thrown an unexpected curveball that seriously tested his resilience, both physically and mentally.

The 6’4” right-handed pitcher says, “I was so excited heading into my senior year. I had just committed to pitch at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and was ready for a final high school season. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get to do any of it. I found multiple very enlarged lymph nodes, which led to so many doctor’s appointments, tests, and surgeries, all pointing toward a lymphoma diagnosis. My plans for baseball and college were all put on hold while we had to plan for next steps for my health.”

He says he was, “unbelievably lucky for my biopsy to come back benign, given that the chance of that seemed so low.”

He started training again for the upcoming high school season, but it wasn’t long before he was forced to relive the ordeal a second time.

“I was back to seeing multiple specialists, followed by another biopsy surgery,” Christian says. “The biopsy was benign again, and now I finally have some answers and an uncommon diagnosis that will require me to be followed and monitored for the rest of my life. I know how lucky I am and how different my senior year could have looked.”

Now a key player for the Foxes, the pitcher is right where he wants to be, and he’s grateful to be there.

Path to Pitching

Throughout Christian’s baseball career, some of his fondest memories are of when his father coached his various summer all-star teams. During that time, and up until two years ago, he was a versatile player who had assignments all over the field, except behind the plate as a catcher. But his heart was on the mound, so as a sophomore, he decided to focus solely on perfecting his pitches. Even more specifically, he wanted to be a closer so he could pitch in all of the games without a mandatory resting period.

“I do prefer to enter the game in the second half, or to close it out, so I know I have to keep myself mentally and physically prepared so that I am ready any time coach needs me,” says Christian, who has found parallels between his health scare and the game he loves.

“Baseball is such a mental game, but that’s what keeps me coming back,” says Christian, who is feeling much better now. “This sport forces you to overcome adversity and to work under pressure. Baseball has taught me that if you want something, you have to earn it by putting in the time and hard work to prove yourself.

Right now, Christian says he’s just trying to excel in his pitching stats. Very early in the season, he has an ERA of 0.00.

“I know if I stay consistent, I can keep it low because I have a great defense behind me,” Christian says.

Coach Jim Hastings, now in his seventh year leading the Foxes team, acknowledges Christian’s key role.

“Being a closer is probably the toughest of all pitching rotations, but Christian enjoys that role,” the coach says. “His biggest assets are his height and the velocity of his throws, which have been tapped at 89 mph. That speed, especially with his fastball, places him in an elite group of roughly 5% of all WPIAL pitchers who can throw that hard.”

Motivated by his health journey, Christian is inspired to give back in a manner he knows best.

“I have become involved in an adaptive baseball league with my family to give people from our community a chance to play baseball no matter what their abilities may be,” says Christian, the eldest of nine children, including twins who play on the Foxes’ WPIAL champions girls soccer team.

He continues, “I did not always realize what a privilege it is to get to go to school every day, to play the sport that I love, and to just be a teenager. I did not realize how lucky I was until I was faced with losing that. It has made me appreciate everything so much more, and I know that I won’t take anything for granted anymore.”

“I’m so proud of Christian for what he overcome and the improvement he’s already shown so far this season,” coach Hastings says. “He’s matured emotionally and physically, and is a very talented kid. We’re ready for him to have a really good year. He has a bright future.”