Bryce Foster is far too young to appreciate a reference to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” After all, it was first recorded way back in 1970 when his parents weren’t even thought of, or were at least in diapers.
However, the recent Marquette Academy graduate is very familiar with the concept illustrated by the tune's most famous line, “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Foster is well aware of how painful it is to miss the game he loves, and how sweet returning to it with a vengeance can be.
After missing virtually all of his junior season to a shoulder injury, Foster worked himself back into a lighter, stronger, more determined player this past spring, one that was not only a key in the batting order and on the mound for the Class 1A fourth-place club, but now The Times Baseball Player of the Year.
“To talk about this year with Bryce, you have to go back to last year,” said MA coach Todd Hopkins, whose club went 30-4, won the Tri-County Conference, its own regional and the Illinois Wesleyan Sectional and Super-Sectional to make its first trip to state since the spring of 1999. “He was our No. 2 pitcher, playing third and some first, but then he got hurt, so he came into this year with something to prove, and I think he did that.
"He proved to everybody he could play and could have a good year, and he did. I’m very proud and happy for him.”
Foster was primed to fill pretty much the same role he had this year — a strong-armed hurler and third baseman when not on the bump — before a shoulder injury knocked him from both spots.
Angered and a little frustrated, Foster threw himself into a strength and conditioning program that included a focus on nutrition. By the time he was medically cleared to play, he was not just stronger, but lighter, having dropped near 50 pounds. That combination made him healthier, more confident and ready to play ball.
“Having to sit out, that was super heart-breaking. It was really painful to miss all that time,” Foster said with a little anger still in his voice. “I had to grind out the offseason, to get in better shape so that I would have to worry about something happening that would cost me again. I wanted to be stronger, and I really worked for it and I got it.
"When I came back this year, I felt better than ever. Coach (Hopkins) had high expectations for us, and I was able to help fulfill them.
“Coming off missing all that time, it made this year just that much sweeter for me.”
His work with MA pitching coach Brad Waldron was the source of his outstanding mound work. He posted a 6-1 record with a minuscule 1.21 ERA and 74 strikeouts over 46 1/3 innings. He's the first to admit that walks trouble him a bit, but he was always able to work out of the jams they created using a fastball that touched 88 miles an hour. Among his highlights was an 11-1, five-inning no-hitter against T-C rival Putnam County, another Sweet Sixteen ballclub.
Foster was also a huge threat at the plate, turning in an average of .382 with 29 runs scored (a figure diminished by courtesy runners when he pitched) and an area-best 51 runs batted in. Of that latter figure, none were bigger than the ones he collected on a walk-off, two-run double in the last of the seventh inning in the IWU sectional title game at Jack Horenberger Field against Okaw Valley, sending the Cru to state.
"It doesn’t get any better than that double,” Foster said with a chuckle. "I’ll never forget it.”
“Bryce was always very composed at the plate in key situations,” Hopkins said. “When we had runners in scoring position, he was able to calm things down, get a good pitch, not swing at something bad and come through for us. He was huge for us. That double that he hit in the sectional final will be talked about around Marquette for 50 years. ...
"And from the first game he pitched against Princeville down in Jacksonville, he was great on the mound all year, too. He didn’t have his best game at the sectional, but if he doesn’t get sick on the mound against Aurora Christian (in the state semifinals), we win that one too. … He was an outstanding player in a great group of kids.”
And with all those clutch performances by Foster and others in the order like fellow Times First Team selections Logan Komater and Nate Melvin, Second Teamers Zach Dyche and Luke Couch, and pitcher John Thompson, came the wins. Foster also credits his batterymate, Zach Dyche, and the senior leadership his class showed the team for all their success.
“We had no idea we were going to end up where we did," he explained. "We started playing really good ball from the very start together and just kept going. We all got along really well, nobody had any differences, and the younger kids really stepped up and showed they can play and just figured out how to do it game by game. We all have heart, a heart for the game, and a chemistry that was amazing.
"Honestly, I can see this baseball season being one of the best moments of my life. The farther away from those weeks I get, the more I wish I could go back and live them all over again.
"It was such a great experience.”