Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the sports world, injuries are part of the process. The strain collegiate athletes put on their bodies year round through training and competing can often makes student-athletes more vulnerable to injuries.
While some are fortunate enough to enjoy an entire four year college career without missing a single practice or game, that's not always the case with every student-athlete. Some too, are just downright unlucky.
Of those unlucky few is junior infielder Connor Klemann.
Klemann rarely had injuries during his high school playing days, but the injury bug decided to introduce itself to him once he arrived in Happy Valley. During Penn State's offseason trip to Cuba in November of 2015, Klemann joined the team but could play in only the final game of the trip because of a minor injury suffered beforehand.
Alright, no big deal. Klemann had two full months to recover before opening day. He'll be ready.
And ready he was.
Klemann impressed the coaching staff so much leading up to the season that he was named the opening day starter at second base and was placed in the fifth spot in the lineup.
When head coach Rob Cooper was recruiting Klemann, he noticed a skilled hitter beyond his years at the plate and knew he could make an immediate impact to the team.
"He knows how to put together at-bats and he's a tough guy to pitch to," Cooper said. "He's not an easy out. He can adjust. He's smart. He's probably one of the more advanced guys I've been around in college as far as approach to hitting."
In the 2015 opener against Monmouth, Klemann reached base on a fielder's choice in his second at-bat and scored the team's only run of the game. He was well on his way in the path to success. It was an in-game injury though that sidelined him for the day.
Unfortunately, that day turned into a whole month. Klemann didn't return to the lineup until April.
When he got back to full strength, Klemann again showed flashes of greatness. He rattled off a seven-game hitting streak in April and hit a walk-off RBI single in Penn State's season finale that secured the team's first winning season since 2012.
However, Klemann appeared in only 28 of the team's 55 games his freshman season. He hit .260 and registered a .345 on-base percentage while not playing at full strength for most of the year.
During the summer, Klemann was named to the Cal Ripkin League All-Star team. The momentum was building for a monster sophomore year.
That is until 10 games into the season when Klemann hurt his right arm. He eventually needed season-ending surgery.
Klemann couldn't even travel with the team for the rest of the year because he was busy completing his rehab. He was determined to come back the following year stronger than ever.
It wasn't until August of 2017 that Klemann could get back to lightly throwing and hitting again, but that didn't mean he wasn't actively trying to improve. Before he was cleared to swing, Klemann would track pitches from the box to keep his eyes and instincts fresh for when he could return.
Cooper said Klemann never had his head down during the whole process and was a great teammate all year despite not being on the field.
"His attitude was about as good as to be expected," Cooper said. "When you love the game and you want to be a part of something so bad it's difficult. "He cares. He wants to do well, and he has missed being out there."
Klemann wasn't full-go for fall practices in 2017 and he wasn't finally cleared to practice until January of 2018, less than two months away from opening day.
Despite the long rehab process and the short amount of time he's been able to fully prepare to get back on the field, Klemann hasn't missed a beat so far this season.
Klemann recorded two hits in his first game back after almost a year off the diamond. Out of Nittany Lions who have been active for more than two games, he leads the team in batting average (.333), total bases (12) and is tied for the team lead in hits (8) and home runs (1).
"It feels amazing to be back," Klemann said. "I'm just grateful to be playing and to be back with the guys. It feels great."
With his arm feeling better than ever, it's an encouraging sign, especially considering he has to make the longest throw on the infield from third base.
Cooper said Klemann is full-go right now and the coaching staff isn't holding him back if he feels healthy. Cooper hopes to keep Klemann near the top of the lineup for the rest of the season.
"Since Connor Klemann committed to us and signed with us we always thought he could be a high-level hitter," Cooper said. "Unfortunately he's had some injuries along the way. He's been kind of snake bit there, but he's finally healthy and he's finally now starting to get that confidence back. Everybody's starting to see the kind of hitter we always felt like he's going to be."
Finally at full health and confident at the plate and in the field, it's clear Klemann is due for some good luck. Already early the season, it might just turn out to be the year of Connor Klemann.