Freshman year was not an ideal season for Cornell baseball’s Will Simoneit. As an injury forced the catcher to sit out his entire first year with the Red, it was a long time coming for the sophomore to finally see the diamond in 2017.
And when finally given the chance, he delivered. Now, Simoneit continues to show a willingness to be a contributing member and leader for a budding Cornell squad.
WIth hip surgery landing Simoneit in the dugout during 2016, a monkey wrench was thrown into in his future with the team. As with all injuries, the surgery indicated a waiting game for when Simoneit would play in his first game for the Red.
“I knew I had to stay patient and stick with it,” Simoneit said. “It wasn’t all going to come at once. It’s a process coming back from [an injury], especially with catching. This was something that I really wanted to do, and I felt like I could do it.”
Coming into 2017, Simoneit had not appeared in a single game. And if one thing was certain, it was clear that his opportunities during the season would be numbered.
“I knew I had two catchers in front of me, [senior] C.J. Price … and [junior] Ellis Bitar, who each had a season under coach [Dan Pepicelli],” Simoneit said. “I tried not to think much about [playing time]. It’s out of my control [and] I was just going to do the best I could.”
Despite Simoneit seeing limited opportunities, a door opened for the emerging catcher early in the season when Price suffered an unfortunate concussion.
In the third weekend of play, Simoneit got the start behind the plate against Richmond. And it was in that first start — his first game for Cornell baseball — that Simoneit hit a homerun in the top of the ninth inning. The Red eventually walked away with a loss in extra innings, but the game nonetheless represented a promising start to Simoneit’s time in a Red uniform.
As the season progressed, Simoneit continued to turn heads despite his limited appearances. In just his fifth game, the sophomore hit a grand slam — a feat that many ball players have failed to achieve over the course of their entire careers. The slam came as Cornell led Towson by only a few runs during the fourth inning of a tight offensive battle. In a high-pressure situation with all bases loaded, Simoneit sent one over the fence to blow the game open, leading the way for a 27-14 win.
“I’ve always wanted to hit a grand slam,” Simoneit said. “That’s like a dream come true. It’s motivating for myself. I did it, and I want to keep doing it.”
And it’s clear he can keep doing it. In the Red’s final season series against Princeton, Simoneit stepped up to the plate with the game tied 1-1. With the bases juiced and only one out, Simoneit, at the very least, needed to hit a sacrifice fly to give his team a lead. Yet, the sophomore went above and beyond the minimum by hitting a grand slam to secure the win — all while capping off an impressive first season.
“I think the last two times I kept my heart rate down and … try not to do too much,” Simoneit said. “I’m not trying to hit a homerun. I’m just trying to get a barrel on the ball.”
In his first year of play, Simoneit certainly did a fine job of getting the “barrel on the ball,” leading the team in slugging percentage with an impressive rate of .610. While the sophomore had slightly fewer at-bats than needed to rank in Ivy League statistics, his slugging percentage would be good for second-best in the conference.
But even with his success in numbers, Simoneit believes he has plenty of work to do in the offseason in order to get where he wants to be as a ballplayer and establish himself as an everyday player, whether it is behind the plate or elsewhere.
“It was a good first year, [but] I want to be doing better,” Simoneit said. “I have higher expectations for myself to get where I want to be. I still have a lot of time and I’ve got to stay patient with it. I can’t force things. I have a whole summer … [with] all baseball and no class.”
Simoneit is set on becoming a better all-around player, hoping to improve everything from his throws to second to getting more comfortable on the basepaths. He stressed that because of his season-ending surgery during his freshman year, there is an certain self-emphasis on regaining his “feel for the game.”
Of course, one of Simoneit’s goals is securing the starting catcher position in the Red’s lineup. However, despite this endgame in sight, Simoneit also hopes to help his team from his bat in the lineup.
As a Chicago native, Simoneit draws inspirations from Kris Bryant of the Cubs: a player who is effective at the plate but also plays multiple positions. Since Bryant can be moved around the lineup, he played about 96 percent of games for the defending World Champions last season. Just as how Bryant benefits Chicago with his versatility, Simoneit hopes to play a similar role for Cornell.
“I want to be able to take reps at third [base], and feel comfortable at another position,” Simoneit said. “If my coach wants to put me in the outfield, I want to be able to comfortably track a fly ball and make the play.”
This season, Simoneit showed fans a sample of what he can provide Cornell baseball for possibly the next three years. And with some of the Red’s top hitters in senior first baseman Cole Rutherford and third baseman Tommy Wagner graduating, the stage is set for Simoneit to become a centerpiece in Cornell’s offense, and potentially everyday lineup.
“I want to be the guy; I want to have a leadership role on this team,” Simoneit said. “I want others to be excited when I come up to bat and hope that I can be the guy for the team.”
From what he’s shown, this catcher is capable of being that guy.