IOWA CITY, Ia. — A right-field pop-up in no man’s land sent Mitchell Boe sprinting, his eye locked on the white dot floating overhead.
Iowa’s senior second baseman doesn’t let much drop in his territory. This play seemed no different.
Until it wasn’t.
Charging just as hard was all 6-foot-2, 210 pounds of right-fielder Zeb Adreon. Neither player was fully sure he could get there, so both Hawkeyes called for the ball.
The collision reverberated through Ohio State’s Bill Davis Stadium.
Agony lingered on each side, but Boe, by far, received the more brutal end. Three facial fractures, gushing blood and a hospital trip in Columbus was the unfortunate outcome.
“Right when it happened, getting the news that it was fractured, there wasn’t much knowledge on coming back from this,” Boe said. “Talking with the doctors and everything, it didn’t sound too good.”
Two weeks of uncertainty have ensued, as the final leg of Boe’s collegiate career sways in the wind.
Initially considered out for the year, Boe now hopes for one last go at Duane Banks Field in his final home series. He passed concussion tests late this week and is officially cleared for Sunday’s Senior Day game against Michigan State. But if that doesn’t materialize, he’ll settle for a stretch-run return as No. 24 Iowa (29-17, 11-7 Big Ten Conference) looks for its third NCAA regional berth in the past five years.
“I don’t think any of us had any doubt that if there was even a hope, that he’d be back,” Hawkeyes coach Rick Heller said. “I go back to when we recruited Mitch, that’s one of the biggest reasons why we went after him. His attitude and how he loved to play, along with his toughness, we really felt like he’d be able to bring that to the ballclub.”
Although it came with a painful price, the April 28 collision is a microcosm of Boe’s Hawkeye tenure. The 5-10, 175-pound second baseman doesn’t wow you with intimidating size, but four years of defensive intensity and grittiness have made Boe a cornerstone of Iowa baseball’s rise.
The man Heller plucked from just outside Chicago made 18 starts as a freshman, then kept ascending. The early action transformed Boe into a lineup mainstay during the Hawkeyes’ magical 2017 postseason run.
That heightened exposure spilled over into what’s been two successful upperclassman seasons. In his first year as a captain, Boe’s leadership and veteran presence have been huge catalysts in putting Iowa on the NCAA Tournament’s doorstep.
“Growing up in high school, this was my game,” Boe said. “I would play harder than everyone else. I was going to have to in order to see the field. I knew I needed to step my game up, and it kind of became something that defined me as a player here.
“These past four years, I’ve been making my money on playing hard, making diving plays, trying to just play harder than everyone else on the field. That’s no different than what happened at Ohio State. I don’t plan on changing that.”
This approach explains why Boe’s injury stung so much.
“Got in my car when I got to the parking lot after Ohio State, and I cried for like five minutes,” Heller said. “Didn’t want to see Mitch go out that way. He’s meant so much to the program and has done so much to help us grow. What he means to this team and how far we’ve come this season with all the adversity, for that to happen to him just didn’t seem fair.
“Now, it seems like we’re getting a second chance, where he’ll at least be able to play again before the end of the season.”
If there’s been any positivity from this situation, it’s been Iowa’s ability to adapt. Infielder Brendan Sher has caught fire in Boe’s absence, winning back-to-back Big Ten freshman of the week awards. Izaya Fullard has added second base to his plate as well.
In a season full of adversity — injuries, coaching changes and more — the Hawkeyes continue to thrive.
“I feel like we’ve been through a lot so far this year — Mitch just gets hurt — and we have a lot of guys shuffling around,” fellow senior Cole McDonald said. “But what I really like about this team is that no one gives up. Every person can come to the ballpark and almost expect to play no matter what, depending on the situation. And honestly, at this point of the season, I just feel like we’ve seen everything.”
What everyone hopes to see this weekend is Boe manning second base, throwing his body around one last time at Duane Banks Field. Boe must wear a protective mask — similar to what Grant Leonard had last year after getting hit in the face on a comebacker — but that’s a minor annoyance.
Given how these last few weeks have unfolded, Boe will sign on.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.