Kids have pitched thousands of Game 7s at their local parks. They’ve stepped up to a makeshift plate at home with their walkup music blaring on the family speakers. Baseball is the ultimate sport for dreamers and believers. Its romanticized history has connected generations and made it withstand the test of time.
Facing the World Series of his own life challenges, Illinois State pitcher Trey Krause needed to dream. With some of his most basic life functions suddenly taken from him, he envisioned one day gripping the ball again and letting go of a sweeping curveball coming out of his left hand.
Battling cancer in the middle of a pandemic, Krause believed in baseball. And his fight back made believers out of others.
In February 2020, just before the start of what would have been his freshman season at ISU, Krause was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare type of cancerous tumor that grows in the bones—usually the legs. It can cause debilitating pain performing even routine exercises. He went through chemotherapy and rehab from a surgery removing part of his femur, having to do most of it alone as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic all but eliminated hospital visitors. While some days were better than others, scary thoughts consumed him.
But by November, Krause was in remission. There’s still a long way to go—he’s progressed from a wheelchair to a cane. Throughout everything, he envisioned taking the mound at Duffy Bass Field for the first time and reconnecting with the game that’s always been a part of him.
“It’s definitely a change in your life without even realizing it,” Krause said. “Playing catch again, the little things, it’s a great feeling that you don’t realize you pass by a lot.”
Krause, who hails from Burlington, Wisconsin, was off to a blistering start his first fall on campus, holding his own against older pitchers. He had a particularly strong fall ball outing at Missouri, where his signature breaking ball buckled hitters from the Power Five school. It appeared he was ready to make an immediate impact.
While his work on the mound was promising, coaches noticed he was struggling to finish basic workouts. By the end of the semester, he could barely run stairs. He continued to pitch well in January practices, but he frequently limped off the mound, causing head coach Steve Holm to believe his young pitcher might have a stress fracture.
“There was just something not quite right,” Holm said. “It should have healed by then.”
Holm had Krause get an X-ray. But the readings on the X-ray were concerning, so much so that the coaching staff immediately ordered an MRI. The next morning, Holm was in the gym when he got a call from athletic trainer Andrew Benning. Holm had a sinking feeling the news was grim. And it was. The MRI revealed the tumor.
“It’s the worst situation I’ve been in as a coach,” Holm said.
Holm called Krause’s parents, Thomas and Rachel, and asked them to drive to Normal as soon as possible. As they all huddled in Holm’s office, Benning read off the results. The stunned silence was haunting as minds began to wander.
“You think of the worst right away with everything associated with cancer,” Krause said.
But there was no time to dwell.
Krause, known by teammates and coaches as a happy-go-lucky and positive individual, embraced his uphill battle. He knew he could rely on a strong support system. Aside from his family, teams across campus rallied around him. The women’s basketball team, for example, wore his name on the back of its warmup jerseys. That communal feel gave Krause an extra boost as he prepped for his biggest challenge.
“You have to be thankful for the community that surrounds ISU, and there’s so many people that even if you never met them, they want the best for you,” he said.
Krause stayed with his team before treatments began, good medicine for all parties. During this time, he plotted out a plan with his advisors to continue his schooling online (he didn’t have to take any time off academically). He then went back to Wisconsin to start chemotherapy—not long before the pandemic shut down the rest of the season.
As the world went into quarantine, Krause became isolated in his hospital room, where he studied and completed homework. He credits his family, friends, teammates, coaches, and professors for helping him through.
“There were times that I did feel like I was going to get through it, but that continuous chemo treatment can make some days feel opposite than the next,” Krause said. “But there were always people I could rely on and talk to.”
He checked off the boxes one day at a time. Every step was progress, even when it was hard to stay patient.
It all paid off. He’s in remission and on the path to recovery. Krause will never forget greeting his family when he left the hospital in November. It was one of the happiest moments in his life. And a month later, despite the physical limitations he still has, he snuck in a game of catch with his dad.
On January 12, exactly 11 months after the Redbird baseball Twitter account broke the news of the diagnosis, Holm tweeted out a photo of Krause at practice with the magic words: “Today he (Krause) walked into practice cancer free! Welcome back, big man.”
“To see him walk in was when the moment was real for everybody,” Holm said. “You’re like, ‘Holy cow, this kid just did it. He beat it.’ He is that guy. He has the right mentality to do what he just did.”
Krause won’t take the mound this year. It will be awhile before he’s back in baseball shape. But as he’s already proven, he’s filled with fight.
“The goal since the start of this was to get me back to where I started when I left,” Krause said. “I will get back on the field, and I will make an impact for ISU.”
Despite never pitching in an actual game, he’s done that and then some. His will power drives his teammates and those around the program. Even during his toughest moments, Krause envisioned his sharpest curveball fooling opposing hitters and getting back to form.
His advice to others in their own battles? Keep believing.