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University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

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The Whiz Kids of UH Baseball

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Erin D. McKenzie
Tom Wertz (left) and Erik Pesek are pursuing engineering degrees while playing baseball. Photo by Thomas Shea.
Tom Wertz (left) and Erik Pesek are pursuing engineering degrees while playing baseball. Photo by Thomas Shea.

Bewildered faces no longer surprise Tom Wertz and Erik Pesek. It’s come to be a common reaction when these two University of Houston baseball players tell people they are pursuing engineering degrees.

“It’s typical,” said Wertz, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “At this point I have two stereotypes. In my engineering classes I’m a jock and in the locker room I’m a nerd.”

Both make no apologies for their intelligence, or their abilities on the field. However, they cannot deny it’s a challenging combination requiring absolute mastery in the skill of time management.

“I go to class in the morning,” said Pesek, a freshman petroleum engineering major from the dugout on Cougar Field just prior to a mid-day practice. “If there is no game, it’s baseball in the afternoon and then once I get home at night I use all the remaining time to study. I go to bed and it all starts over again the next day. It can be tough, you just have to learn to manage your time.”

Baseball is widely recognized as one of the most challenging sports for student athletes due to its exhausting travel and practice schedule. On average, the UH baseball team has played four games a week this year. That’s on top of daily practices.

Of the three weeks remaining in the season, there are still 11 games on their schedule. It could be more, depending on how things go at the Conference USA Championship over Memorial Day weekend.

But despite the difficulties they face keeping up with this game schedule and the rigors of engineering coursework, Pesek and Wertz think it’s essential. For as they put it—an opportunity to play baseball after graduation would be ideal, but engineering is their way of ensuring all their bases are covered.

So they’ve adapted to the odd looks and a little kidding from teammates. After all, sooner or later, it’s followed by an ego boost. Many, eventually, end up asking for a hand with math or science homework.

“There have been many times someone has knocked on my door for help,” Pesek said smiling. The same goes for Wertz who has offered his help to those on his own team and other athletes who ask.

Both couldn’t be a more solid choice.

Pesek graduated magna cum laude from his high school while Wertz managed to pay for school through several academic scholarships. He even earned consecutive spots on the dean’s list his freshman and sophomore years.

On the field, just as in engineering, they are perfecting slightly different specialties.

Pesek is a redshirt pitcher, but suits up and travels with the team. Beyond practice he is devoting extra time to improving his pitching skills. If his past is any indication, he has great potential.

At Ft. Bend Bush High School, Pesek was a three-year letter winner. There, he started at third base as a sophomore and junior and by his senior year had transitioned to starting pitcher.

It’s the same road Wertz went down. As a freshman, he also was redshirted. Now, he is a utility player for the team—often stepping in as the pinch hitter. At last year’s series against Rice University, Wertz was able to set up and provide sparks for his team in the late innings of the last two games.

But if you ask Wertz, by far, the best moment he has had in a Cougar uniform was freshman year when the team won the conference USA Championship.

“Just the fact that we won, we got a ring and we all dog piled on the field—there was nothing like it,” Wertz said.

Before they both played for UH, they were throwing the ball around in their yards with their fathers before graduating to little league and later suiting up to play on high school teams in the same district. Neither remembers facing each other before they were drawn—for many of the same reasons—to UH.

For Pesek, it was appealing to be part of the first class of students to pursue a new undergraduate petroleum engineering option. The degree allowed him to follow in his father’s footsteps at one of only a few universities in the country offering the specialty—all right in his own hometown. Earning a summer internship his first year didn’t hurt either.

Wertz also was inspired to follow engineering, in part, because it was his father’s career choice. His close proximity to his family in Sugar Land, the merit scholarships and the chance to play ball all made UH “the right fit at the right time” for Wertz.

And while both admit the setup is taxing, the opportunity to do what they love is worth it. Because no matter how grueling it can be sometimes, Pesek and Wertz are following their dreams at UH.

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