Last summer, former University of Memphis baseball pitcher Caleb Wallingford had a decision to make after he exhausted his baseball eligibility.
Wallingford, who went 9-11 as a starter at Memphis over the past two seasons with a 3.21 ERA, could sign with a MLB team as a free agent or go back to the U of M and finish his degree.
Signing as a free agent was Wallingford’s initial plan, but no MLB team offered him a contract. He then had to make another decision, should he continue to work out and wait for his phone to ring or finally decide to come back to the Memphis.
This time he chose the later, but he still wanted to play a sport. Wallingford, a three-sport star at Elkhorn High School in Nebraska, reached out to Memphis basketball head of player development Julian Schwartz and the director of basketball operations Eric Sebastian to see if coach Josh Pastner’s squad could use another body.
“I talked to them initially and the rest of the coaching staff following that,” Wallingford said. “It was decided they were going to bring me on.”
After becoming a member of the Memphis Tiger basketball team as a walk-on, Wallingford had to get his body into basketball shape – something he hadn’t done since high school.
“Basketball shape is completely different kind of shape than baseball,” he said. “There’s a lot more running and agility stuff.”
While getting into basketball shape may have been challenging adjusting to a new sport, team or school is not new to Wallingford. The former U of M pitcher has played baseball at three different schools, Kansas State, McLennan Community College and Memphis. He said he learned from being thrown into those unfamiliar environments.
“Coming into this team you have another dose of that,” Wallingford said. “You have a group of guys you have to get familiar with get to know and become teammates and work everyday with. I think just my experience of meeting a lot of new people and my teammates I think that helped out with joining this team.”
Wallingford also praised his new teammates and said it was a surreal feeling to make his debut in an exhibition against LeMoyne-Owen Nov. 6.
“Surreal would be a good way to describe it,” Wallingford said. “It definitely is exciting. It was a mixture of feelings. It felt good to get out there.”
He’s only played 17 minutes this season, but said at the beginning of the season, his goals, like they did in his baseball days, align with the team’s goals. Memphis is currently 11-5 on the season.
“Anything I can do to contribute and help this team win games and accomplish what we want to do as a group.”
As far as after the season, Wallingford isn’t sure what’s next, but he’s focused on Tiger basketball and getting his degree.
“After I get my degree, I’m not sure what’s next after graduation, but I know right now finishing out my degree and get this team where we want to go,” Wallingford said.
Memphis Tigers walk-on forward Caleb Wallingford has logged in 17 minutes for the Blue and Gray this season.