There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2019-20 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players.
This week: Gopher junior pitcher Joshua Culliver.
The pitching mound sometimes can be a moment of truth, an individual battle between the pitcher and the batter. It doesn’t always go as expected, and Minnesota junior Joshua Culliver knows this as well as anyone.
“Being an athlete in general, failures are going to happen,” the 6’-2” Omaha, Neb. native noted. “I’m a Christian, and I go back to my faith and I pray a lot. [It also helps] having people around me that push me a little bit more [and] say don’t give up.
“The best quote I ever heard,” Culliver continued, “was [about how] in this game when you are struggling, you got to be happy that you are struggling because you know that the goodness is coming next. I think just finding ways to see how you can get better while you are struggling… really helped me become the player that I am.”
Culliver is part of what legendary Coach John Anderson, now in his 39th season at the U of M, calls “the deepest and most talented pitching staff I’ve had in my career.” He had a team-high 13 starts last spring and struck out 51 batters, including seven in five innings in his first start of the season.
Anderson says the junior hurler has a high spin rate on his fastball to complement his changeup, which he calls his best pitch. “It means a lot,” Culliver said of his coach’s comments.
“Since stepping on campus, Josh has added a tremendous amount of competitiveness and versatility to our pitching staff,” Gopher Pitching Coach Ty McDevitt observed of Culliver. “His affinity for competition and leadership characteristics makes him a valuable asset to his teammates. We fully anticipate another year of significant contribution from Josh.”
“Having people around you believing in you and pushing you, you get more confident,” Culliver said. He also said that this past summer playing in the Cape Cod League helped him as well, where he played in 10 games and struck out 12 in 20 1/3 innings with one start.
“When you go out to play summer collegiate baseball,” Culliver explained, “you play with guys all over the country and sometimes from different parts of the world. You get a different perspective of what baseball really means to you. [You] learn new ways, and the competition is a lot different.”
Two summers ago Culliver also competed in the Northwoods League, the world’s largest organized baseball league for elite college players. He pitched a shutout inning in the Major League Dreams Showcase as well.
“Summer ball definitely helps you [know] who you are,” Culliver said. “You have to learn how to fight on your own, on ways to get better by yourself.”
The young man is studying for a degree in construction management. “I’d like to be a project manager,” he said. “School has been going great. That’s my favorite part. The best thing I’ve ever heard was that at Minnesota they are not just trying to prepare you for the four years you are here, but trying to prepare you for the next 50 years of your life.”
Minnesota opens the 2020 season Friday in Tempe, Ariz. against Oregon, then San Diego on Saturday, Pepperdine on Sunday, and Arizona on Monday. After a Feb. 21 exhibition game against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla, the Gophers will host a 14-game stretch at the Vikings downtown stadium. “The goal for the whole team is to win the national title,” Culliver said.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.