To understand where Craig Yoho is now, you first must understand where he’s been.
Five years ago, Yoho — an Indiana native — was a standout performer at Fishers High School. The state’s fourth-best shortstop, Yoho had just capped off a state championship season and was on his way to Houston to play college ball for the Cougars. In Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer’s own words, he was a “big-time recruit.”
Upon his arrival on campus, however, misfortune struck Yoho. After appearing in just eight games and making three starts as a position player, Yoho was tabbed with a medical redshirt following an injury that would cause him to miss the remainder of his freshman season. In 2020, his sophomore season was cut short due to the cancellation of the season, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the prolonged offseason, Yoho sought out a change of scenery. Opting for Indiana, a return home would give him the opportunity to finally build off that foundation he’d laid before departing for college.
But in the two seasons since, he’s only been sidelined with more injuries. He’s now been through three surgeries — nearly three calendar years having passed since the last time.
Fast forward to Tuesday night, where Indiana is en route to utilizing nine pitchers in a 13-5 victory over the visiting Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. One of those nine is Yoho.
“I just competed with my teammates,” Yoho said when asked about his favorite aspect of his performance Tuesday night. “I’ve been on the sidelines for a few years now watching them play and supporting them, so it was cool just to be out there with them and just go get after it — wear the Indiana jersey and compete for my state.”
The pitching staff’s efforts were backed by strong offensive output, the Hoosiers carrying over their high-level production from Sunday into Tuesday’s contest. They totaled 14 hits and a clean-shaven Hunter Jessee slugged two home runs, but it was Yoho’s return to the hill that stole the show.
“To see him become the player he once was, and probably better than he’s ever been, you’re just really happy for him,” Mercer said Tuesday night. “As a human being, as a person, when you see a guy recover from those injuries, to get back out and to be really good — not just to go back and be a fine player but to be a really good player — you just felt really happy for him.”
Yoho had everything working for him against the Redhawks. On a night where the Hoosiers planned to staff the evening’s innings, Yoho was the only pitcher to come back out of the dugout after his first frame of work. Beginning in the sixth inning, Yoho struck out five of the eight batters he faced and maintained his composure despite allowing traffic in the seventh.
“I checked the text message from my wife, she texted me, she said, ‘Is Craig throwing a wiffle ball?’ and a little wiffle ball meme,” Mercer said. “But yeah, he was terrific.”
An outstanding changeup, unique fastball property and a nice breaking ball all were keys to Yoho’s success throughout the evening, Mercer said, and he managed the game “really well.”
“Of all the things I was happy about tonight, I would say Craig getting back out there and being really good was probably my favorite thing for the night,” Mercer said.
This all comes in his first-ever appearance on a college mound. He’d been a two-way player up to this point in his career, never before getting the chance to toe the rubber in his previous appearances.
All told, not bad for his first time.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Yoho said. “I’ve done the hard work already, so playing the game was the fun part, to just relax and go do my thing.”
Yoho was greeted by a tunnel of teammates each time he came off the mound. For so long, he’s been one of the players forming the tunnel, but experiencing it from the other side was a moment in itself.
“Everybody was so happy for me,” Yoho said.
Alluding to the brotherhood this year’s team has formed, seeing the success of other teammates is just as valuable as the success of each individual. Yoho knows that few have gone through what he has to be here, but he’s also not like a lot of people.
“It was just a cool experience, just, you know, to soak it all up and just have fun,” Yoho said. “I mean, baseball is a game, not to make it anything more than that. Just go have fun and play the game I’ve been playing all my life.”
Now, fully healthy and eager to do so, he finally gets his chance.