The Eastview (Apple Valley, Minn.) baseball team found itself in a late-inning bind.
It was the spring of 2006, and the Lightning were entrenched in a close contest against Rochester Century. Tom Strey wanted to turn to a pinch-hitter, but the Eastview coach had already used all of his bench players. As a result, Strey was forced to stick with then-freshman pitcher Nick Dolsky, who was on the mound in relief, rather than employ his normal strategy of using a designated hitter in place of his pitchers.
So Dolsky made his way to the plate for his first varsity at-bat 12 games into his freshman season. His teammates busted him when he picked up the bat, but this was no laughing matter to Dolsky, whose nerves grabbed a hold of him as he dug into the batter's box. The first pitch made
its way to the plate and Dolsky swung as hard as he
could -- only to miss the ball entirely.
He missed the next two pitches the exact same way en route to a three-pitch strikeout.
"It was more of a relief to get back to the bench,"
Now a senior, Dolsky hasn't had any other at-bats during his high school career. Instead, as the state's top pitcher and one of the nation's top prospects, the 6-foot-8, 215-pound right-hander is too busy sending dejected opponents back to their bench after yet another strikeout. Heading into his senior season, the Arizona recruit had fanned 110 batters in 80.2 innings during his prep career.
Dolsky showed so much promise his freshman year that he became the first ninth-grader to make the varsity under Strey. The ninth-year coach says that back then, Dolsky
was throwing harder than any pitcher on the team,
including then-senior and current University of Minnesota right-hander Allen Bechstein.
But as with most freshmen, Dolsky struggled with
consistency. During his only start of the season, a game against Rosemount, he struck out the first batter he faced and blanked the Irish for four innings. In the fifth, however, he ran into trouble and gave up three earned runs. The Lightning went on to lose the game, 5-4, as Dolsky lasted 4.2 innings, giving up the three runs and fanning two.
Despite the fifth-inning struggles, Dolsky displayed toughness by trying to battle through a blood blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand. The blister popped near the end of the fourth. Blood covered the baseball. Yet he still took the hill in the fifth.
"He wants the ball, so that was a tribute to him to get back out there," says Strey.
Dolsky ended up making two more appearances in relief as a freshman and also made some starts on JV. The
following season, he again showed flashes of stardom but still struggled some with his mechanics, which led to control problems. "He was more of a thrower than a pitcher at that point," says Strey.
Dolsky put it all together by his junior year. His
progression was due in large part to his work during the
offseason with his pitching coach outside of school, Mitch Zwolensky, whose son, Ryan, is a senior
right-hander with Eastview.
Zwolensky, who both played and was a pitching coach in the minor leagues, noticed Dolsky turned his head to the side when he followed through on his
delivery instead of keeping his chin focused on home. Dolsky also had an inconsistent arm path that led to his command issues.
Nick Dolsky Favorites
TV Show: "Entourage"
- Movie: "Terminator 2"
Musical Artist: Led Zeppelin
- Pre-Game Song: "Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin
Once the problems were fixed, Dolsky began
throwing even harder with better control. His 12-to-6 curve, which had been a problem for him in the past, started falling for strikes.
Strey noticed the difference before last season even started. During practice in the school gym, Dolsky
surprised his coach by hitting 94 mph on the radar gun. Amazed, Strey asked his star pitcher to throw it again to make sure he wasn't seeing things. Dolsky threw 94 the very next pitch.
"The ball just explodes out of his hands," says Strey.
"You can hear the whiz of the baseball go by when you're sitting in the dugout," adds Ryan Zwolensky.
Dolsky unveiled his high-octane heater to opposing hitters last spring. Against Burnsville, he was part of a combined no-hitter, accumulating 13 strikeouts in six innings. He also had a 14-strikeout performance in a win over Lakeville North and finished the season 7-3 with a 3.31 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 42.1 innings. Dolsky earned
All-Conference honors, while Eastview went 21-6 and advanced to the Class AAA, Section 3 finals.
He was able to baffle opponents by mixing his
four-seam fastball with a two-seamer, curve and change. Of all his pitches, Dolsky loves the traditional four-seamer the best.
"I love to see a batter just whiff at one," says Dolsky.
Even though throwing in the mid 90s in high school is an incredible feat, Zwolensky believes his prized pupil has the potential to eventually reach the century mark with continued work on his mechanics. And with his combination of size and arm speed, Dolsky has a chance to be an early-round pick in June's MLB Draft.
"His ceiling is higher than any kid I've ever coached," says Zwolensky, who has mentored such MLB pitchers as Javier Vazquez.
"The sky's the limit for him," adds Strey. "He's just going to get better and better."
Dolsky is poised for a dominant senior year on the bump, but he also hopes to convince Strey to give him a couple more plate appearances.
"I think he knows what the answer will be," says Strey, laughing. "He can put in a word all he wants. He's going to focus on pitching for us."
That approach has worked out pretty well since Dolsky's last at-bat.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.