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Monday, June 23
Updated: June 24, 4:44 PM ET
 
Kolkhorst sparked Rice's title run

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- Sometime when he gets back to Houston and the buzz wears off from winning his university's first team championship in any sport, diminutive spark plug Chris Kolkhorst will have to visit the doctor, hop on an MRI machine and get his right knee checked out.

Maybe his PCL will be completely torn, maybe it will just be strained. Whatever the case, an unfriendly poking and prodding from some sort of knee specialist is certainly on the horizon.

Yet he'd be hard-pressed to care.

Chris Kolkhorst
Chris Kolkhorst (7) was feeling no pain after Rice won the title.
Such is the life when your official new nickname is the Gritman and your whole persona is centered on being tough. Two nights ago, Kolkhorst recklessly chased a foul ball down the left field line and took a spill in the visitor's locker room. It effected his play in Sunday's Game 2, with the slap-hitting David Eckstein clone going 0-for-5 in an 8-3 Rice loss.

"Yesterday I didn't do my job," Kolkhorst said. "And you saw the outcome. So today, I told myself, I don't care what this knee feels like, I don't care what's bothering me, it's time to do my job."

And he did just that. Kolkhorst reached base in his first five at-bats, walking twice, hitting two doubles and hitting a single. He scored three runs, drove in two more. In three different innings he was the lead-off batter and all three times he scored in Rice's 14-2 title-clinching win on Monday.

He led the sixth inning off with a double and scored. Nine batters later, he doubled again in the sixth, breaking the game open 10-0.

"Sure you start thinking that things might be over, but you don't want to lose your focus and let things get out of hand," he said. "So I tried to keep my concentration."

Four months ago, when Kolkhorst first arrived at Rice from junior college, he insisted his teammates call him the Gritman. They told him he had to earn the nickname. Finally, they came to an agreement -- if Rice won the national championship, they'd call him whatever he wanted.

There's no question anymore. I am the Gritman.
Chris Kolkhorst
And shortly after the final out was tallied as the players jumped into a pile just behind the pitcher's mound, somebody yelled out, "Hey Gritman!!"

"I knew it was official when the two biggest proponents of the whole idea, Dane Bubela and (Steven) Herce, came up to me in the middle of that pile and called me the Gritman. There's no question anymore. I am the Gritman."

If he didn't earn the nickname by winning the championship, he would have done it with his play. Saturday night in Game 1, he made a game-saving catch by diving into the left field wall to rob Danny Putnam of an extra base hit and keep a Stanford run off the board.

Monday, he not only reached base in five of his seven plate appearances, but he did so with a potentially serious injury to his knee. The pain was evident during Kolkhorst's double to lead off the sixth inning, as he was visibly limping during his scamper from first to second base.

"I was feeling it, but I did not want to be out of the lineup," Kolkhorst said. "When I stopped around second there, I looked in the dugout and I saw that they wanted to take me out. But they would have had to kill me. And then I would have killed somebody. I was not coming out of this game."

Since Saturday's spill, on a ball that he admits "no human could have possibly caught up to," Kolkhorst has spent much of the time away from the ballpark icing his knee, elevating his knee and getting fitted for a special brace.

The knee throbbed. The knee swelled. But he ignored it. Doctors asked him to get an MRI. He ignored them. And now, thanks in no small part to his contributions, he's a champion.

"If something was wrong, I didn't even want to find out," he said. "Out of sight, out of mind. My only focus was winning the championship."

And now his only focus is on celebrating.

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.







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 True Grit
The V Show: After taking the national title, Rice OF Chris Kolkhorst will now be known as Grit Man.
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