By Jeff Roberson
Will Allen remembers well the collision at the plate that changed things.
“It was game two of our Super Regional at ULL (University of Louisiana-Lafayette). There was a play at the plate where the ball was knocked loose and we didn’t record the out. On that play, I tore my labrum in my throwing shoulder.”
The Ole Miss starting catcher for that 2014 team was riding a wave of success, along with his teammates, as the Rebels were poised to move on – if they could win games two and three following a game one setback.
Ole Miss did indeed win those games to advance to the College World Series. Allen caught games one and two in Omaha the following week.
The pain, however, was at times unbearable. One of the “toughest” Ole Miss baseball teams ever was on its way to what would be a third-place tie national finish. Will Allen was determined to be a part of it.
“We didn’t know it at the time,” Allen said of the status of his shoulder after the collision at ULL. “I had the adrenaline going, and there wasn’t really that much pain. I did some treatment that night after the game.”
That wasn’t all that added to the drama for Allen during that weekend in south Louisiana.
“I’d been drafted by the (Detroit) Tigers the day before, and the next night tore my labrum in my throwing shoulder. The next game (game three) when I was warming up, I knew something was off in my shoulder, but, you know…..I was playing.
“I threw a guy out (at second base in game three), and at the time I didn’t think much of it. But looking back it was pure adrenaline and just wanting it.”
There was a little bit of time between the trips to Louisiana and Nebraska, but very little. Still, that helped some.
“I’d passed all the physical tasks they do checking for instability,” Allen said of the few days before the College World Series. “The day before our first game in Omaha, we were at the stadium and I was mic’d up for “The Season” for our practice. But I had to take the mic off, and I told my coaching staff, ‘Something is messed up.’ It felt like a knife was digging in there.
“They were great,” he said of his coaches. “They gave me the option to play or just DH. I said I’d like to tough it out and do what I can. That was the plan. Do my treatment every day for a couple of hours, and hopefully get it feeling good. But obviously, when you have a torn labrum and you’re throwing, it’s not going to be great.”
Allen caught game one. After the Rebels lost that contest to Virginia 2-1, Allen caught game two, a 2-1 victory against Texas Tech, with John Gatlin getting the game-winning RBI.
Austin Knight caught games three and four. Ole Miss defeated TCU 6-4 but was eliminated by Virginia 4-1.
“That was tough for me just knowing at such an important time I was going to be struggling,” Allen said. “I talked to my coaches, and they knew how bad I wanted to be out there.”
It was late in the game two win against the Red Raiders that Allen recalls a throw he made short of its mark that rolled the last bit to third baseman Austin Anderson. The runner he was attempting to throw out was safe.
“That was when I ran into the dugout (after the inning) and talked to Coach (Bianco) and I just said, ‘I’m not going to be the reason we don’t continue playing.’ Then Gatlin hits the walk-off and that ended it.”
Allen, a co-captain of that team along with Anderson, was the Rebels’ designated hitter for the next two games.
“But it worked out great,” Allen said. “I still hit in the four-hole. It gave Austin Knight a chance to catch in the College World Series, and he did a great job. And we kept playing. And I had a great game offensively (against TCU).”
Everything seemed to be working out just fine, except for one.
“I heard from Tigers scout, Bryson Barber, who had played at Florida and I actually had met and hit with some growing up. He wanted to know why I wasn’t catching,” Allen said. “I wasn’t even signed yet.”
Allen almost helped send the Rebels on to the fifth game in Omaha. In the DH role against Virginia, he came close.
“Bases were loaded and I lined out to their third baseman,” he said. “If that ball was a foot to the left or right or up, there’s two or three runs.
“But it was all a special time with great memories for sure.”
The next phase of life began quickly for Allen. The Rebels headed home, and he headed to shoulder surgery. That happened on July 3 in Pensacola, which incidentally was the night his teammate, Sikes Orvis, was in the College Home Run Derby back in Omaha.
For Allen, there was more and soon.
“My sister and brother-in-law’s wedding was July 5. I was in it,” he said. “That was down in Florida. I kind of threw a wrench in everything, and had this big sling and a nerve block.”
But they got through it. Then his rehab began and the Tigers were waiting.
“They wait until the day before the signing deadline to tell me they’re going to actually fulfill my draft and sign me,” Allen said. “I was injured and had no negotiating factors, no leverage to do anything. That was my first welcome to pro ball.”
After a few years with the Tigers and then the Marlins, he retired following spring training in 2019.
“(The Marlins) called me in and said they had a spot in High A and not Double-A,” he said. “At that point, being 27, I didn’t want to go back to High A. I’d been there for so long and played numerous seasons there. I was at peace. I wanted to be the one who made that call. They were great and open and honest with me. They mentioned me getting into coaching, and if I wanted to they would help me out. I love baseball, and if I ever did coach, it would be the college level. I just had so much fun.”
Allen had been a member of the Orlando Scorpions baseball program that has sent so many players to Ole Miss. Casey Mulholland was an early one, along with Allen and Anderson. Then came guys like Orvis, Auston Bousfield, and J.B. Woodman, among others.
“I’m proud that so many of us were able to play for Ole Miss,” said Allen, who finished runner-up in the 2014 race for the Johnny Bench Award, which goes to the nation’s best college catcher and now goes by the name Buster Posey Award.
Allen and his wife, Alex, were married in Oxford in November 2018. They live in Gainesville, Fla, his hometown.
“I’m actually with a distributorship that distributes Arthrex, which is a company that is globally known in sports medicine,” Allen said of the orthopedics surgical supply company he works for. “Dr. James Andrews, who did my surgery, uses a lot of our products. Now being a medical device sales rep that I actually have anchors in my shoulder, it’s kind of funny, and it allows me to bring up topics to surgeons. We do a lot with the University of Florida here and their doctors and athletes. I obviously had my share of injuries, and that relates to what I’m doing now.”
So back to the collision in game two at Lafayette that changed things, Allen recalls some of the Ragin’ Cajun fans getting on him pretty good about dropping the ball and not tagging the runner out. Remember, it was the crash that severely injured his throwing shoulder.
Allen prefers to recall a moment the next night that those ULL fans did not like so much.
“We led 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh with two outs,” he said. “They had guys on first and second. Seth Harrison doubled down the line, and one run scored. But the second guy did not score. The relay from Braxton (Lee) to Errol (Robinson) to me, and we got him. We kept the lead. I’ve always loved that play.”
There was a bit of irony there, too. Seth Harrison was the player who had scored the previous night in “the crash.”
It was on to Omaha for Will Allen and his teammates.Sign up to receive Hottytoddy.com morning and evening headline emails HERE!