Not the kind who would rough up a nerdy kid to steal his lunch money or walk up to a skinny kid on the beach and kick sand in his face. The shy, soft-spoken Marquette Crusaders junior does all his intimidating from the pitcher’s mound.
And he’s really, really good at it.
Waldron, the ace of a Cru pitching staff that posted a 1.64 ERA en route to a 33-4 record and third place in the Class 1A state tournament, follows his being named to the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association All-State Team last week with a new honor: the 2022 Times Baseball Player of the Year.
There was an expectation for a season of improvement from Waldron, who posted solid end-of-season numbers as a hard-throwing but rail-thin sophomore on a veteran 2021 club that reached a Class 2A supersectional.
But an eat-anything, 5,000-calorie-a-day diet combined with hard work in the weight room under the supervision of his father, MA pitching coach and former MLB draftee Brad Waldron, put 15 pounds of solid muscle on the young man, boosted his fastball into the low 90s and virtually doubled his confidence by the end of the summer.
“Taylor put in a lot of work in the offseason, hit that 90-mph benchmark and just worked his butt off,” Marquette head coach Todd Hopkins said. “Obviously the fastball had more life, but he’s been able to pinpoint his control with all his pitches. Even when he’s 3-1 in the count, he can throw a change, a curve or locate his fastball. You could probably count on one hand how many times he grooved a ball this year.
“When he took the ball, we had a good chance to win, no matter who we were playing. He shows a lot of guts, but you can tell he’s relaxed and in control out there.
In between, Waldron was nothing short of amazing, and he finished with an 11-2 record with 99 strikeouts, 15 walks and only seven earned runs allowed over 55 innings pitched.
That’s a tiny ERA of 0.89.
“My mindset was a little different than last year regarding batters,” said Waldron, who has been drawing Division I interest. “It’s knowing what to throw in different counts, knowing where to locate whatever pitch I decide to throw. That’s a major improvement, because basically I was just throwing it last year.
“I have a lot more confidence in all the pitches I throw. I have more velo[city] now, and I truly believe when I throw my fastball, nobody can touch it.”
Not that there wasn’t a major speed bump in that road.
While pitching in a Tri-County Conference showdown with Putnam County at Masinelli, Waldron appeared to be cruising with 11 strikeouts through five-plus innings, but then felt a twinge in his right elbow. He was immediately removed from the game and did not pitch again for more than two weeks as the Cru finished their regular season.
“Right when it happened, I signaled to my dad to take me out,” Waldron said. “I think it was from my slider, snapping when I throw it, so I’m not throwing that anymore. … It was definitely a scary moment for me. I was begging, please don’t be serious, because I knew I had to help the team get to where we wanted to go and ultimately where we ended up.”
Although he served as DH –— he had a .274 average, 13 runs and 17 RBIs in his first season at the plate in years – the time off paid off when he was able to return to the mound at the Rockford Supersectional against Sterling Newman. There, he seemed his old self with a one-run, four-hit victory that sent the Cru to Peoria.
Waldron, who is working on improving his changeup playing with the Cangelosi Sparks 17U club this summer, feels the Crusaders are losing key bats and much leadership in seniors Beau Ewers, Brady Ewers and catcher Hayden McKenna, but have the talent to return to the IHSA State Finals for two wins next season, not the one they got this spring.
“Our pitching rotation will be exactly the same, but we’ll be missing our seniors,” Waldron said. “They basically ran the team. If you’re slacking in practice, they’d pick you up. They were all great teammates, definitely leaders on the team. … Next year that will fall to our class. It will probably be Aiden [Thompson] stepping up to get after us, but I’ll help any way I can.
“Knowing the way we came from behind so many times, especially in the postseason [in four of their first five wins], I have all the hope for my team we can do that again, no matter who we’re playing.