How WU baseball prepped one Bear to work for Cori Bush

| Staff Reporter

As I talked to Jack Besser, I learned something new: the importance of raking baseball’s pitcher’s mounds. There’s an art to it, he told me, one he perfected over four years on the Washington University baseball team. There’s a huge variety of mounds across the Division III teams that he played, but he diligently maintained his own pitcher’s mound so that it holds up for nine innings.

That attention to detail and dedication to the team is a trait that has helped Besser in many places, from his contributions to the team as a freshman to his work with U.S. Representative Cori Bush.

Courtesy of Thomas Gardner

Besser (right) and teammate Thomas Gardner jog together. Gardner admired Thomas’s willpower. “Instead of moping or pouting, Jack leaned into the things that he could contribute to the team,” he said.

In many ways, Besser’s story at the University is one of adapting—of pivoting. As a high school senior, Besser attended a Wash. U. fall prospect camp. There, head coach Pat Bloom told him that he wasn’t at a level that the coaching staff thought was recruitable, but he gave him tips and feedback. As a freshman, Besser showed up to fall tryouts. “He had really gotten into better shape,” Bloom said. “You could tell he worked very hard.” After a semester-long tryout period, Besser became an official member of the team.

As a left-handed pitcher, he worked to refine his game and taught himself new pitches, also working on his pickoff move. Without an incredibly high throwing velocity, he rounded himself out as a pitcher to be a valuable asset for the team.

Besser found ways to be impactful without a lot of playing time, working on charts and scouting with Bloom. While he got to pitch the first game of the season, he didn’t get any other opportunities. But that did not get him down. “A lot of guys, they want to play college baseball, but they want to actually be out there on the field playing. And when that doesn’t happen your freshman year, you can always see how people deal with that,” said Thomas Gardner, Besser’s teammate of four years. “Instead of moping or pouting, Jack leaned into the things that he could contribute to the team.”

From there, his trajectory was only upward.  “He was a real contributor on the field—it was great to see someone went from being a walk-on and charting to being a real contributor on the mound,” said Kenny Dorian, the team’s student manager during much of Besser’s career.

The ultimate pivot, of course, occurred when COVID-19 canceled Besser’s senior season. Just weeks earlier, the Bears were the top-ranked team in Division III, a particularly significant accomplishment since the seniors were Bloom’s first recruiting class. News of the cancelation reached the team while the Bears were competing in Florida. The coaching staff gathered all 30 players on the team into one cramped hotel room. Shoulder-to-shoulder, the team got the news.  “I’ll never forget sharing the news with them in our condo,” Bloom said. “Man, that was tough. It’s something that you never forget.”

[‘Every day I feel like there’s a little bit more light’: Anthony Azama on the uneasy yet hopeful start for this semester’s sports]

The virus didn’t just derail Besser’s final season, though. It also destroyed his job prospects, as the pandemic led to the prompt cancelation of his upcoming internship with USA Baseball. Fortunately though, he approached his post-graduation career search with a similar mentality to his baseball career: going all in. Sitting in his parents’ house trying to find a job, he saw a video of Missouri primary candidate Cori Bush and was immediately inspired by her devotion to her community.

He drove out to Missouri, volunteered on the campaign and was hired as a staffer. In many ways, Besser said, election night was like a baseball game. The campaign staff sat in a parking lot behind their office on that warm August night, refreshing Twitter and the New York Times ballot returns. Pundits had predicted a close race and many expected Bush’s opponent, Lacy Clay, to prevail. It was a come-from-behind narrative not dissimilar from Besser’s own entrance to Wash. U. baseball. “Politics and sports, it has a lot of overlap,” he said, “and that’s the kind of hustle that [I have] become obsessed with. It’s very addicting.”

Besser was soon hired as Bush’s legislative correspondent and press assistant. After the election, he relocated to Washington, D.C. His rapid ascension did not shock those who know him.

Associate Director of Athletics for External Operations Chelsea Petersen, Besser’s supervisor in his position as an athletics marketing assistant, was unsurprised at his position in politics. “It wasn’t a question of whether someone like Jack would find an opportunity—this was a given,” she wrote in an email to Student Life. “It was being in the right place at the right time and alignment.”

Gardner also saw a continuity between Besser’s baseball career and his entrance into politics. “It was a similar kind of thing—Jack fit well with the campaign’s mentality because nothing was given, nothing was taking for granted, and everything was earned,” he said.

[Wash. U.’s softball team has its first pandemic-era games this weekend. Here’s what one sophomore predicted for the upcoming season.]

Petersen had high praise for Besser’s legacy at the University. “A feature can never adequately capture the commitment Jack made to Wash. U. athletics, the university, and to our operations,” she wrote. Maybe that is true. A 1000-word article can never really capture commitment, dedication, or the relationships made. But the words of those closest to him in the athletic department can come close.

What stuck out to Gardner were memories of Besser from the team bus. The pair would lead karaoke, and Gardner recalled Besser’s “admirable” performance of Beyonce’s “Halo” freshman year. “His songs are fresh,” Gardner laughed. “Jack and I were like the MCs—we were the ones putting in little jokes and stuff in between. And so you could just always see, he has the ability to entertain in a meaningful way and to connect with people as a result.” 

Bloom, too, had fond recollections of Besser’s days on the team. “He sat on a bucket next to me for every game—he would help chart the pitches and he would talk through, you know, strategy, right?” he said. “I feel like my relationship with Jack in terms of baseball is always going to be tight. Because he loves the game, and he loves it in a way that a coach loves it.” 

And what did Besser have to say for himself? While I talked to him, he kept glancing to the bottom of his zoom screen.  Finally, he laughed a little and told me, “Sorry, I’m just looking at my glove.”  Even in an apartment in Washington, D.C.—so far removed from Wash. U.’s Kelly Field—his baseball glove stays in eyesight.  “Maybe a local men’s league will need a ninth or something,” he said. “I’ll be ready.” 

More features from StudLife Sports:

Together, on and off the court: How WU’s married women’s basketball coaches make it work

Two years after shaking with nerves in his first appearance, Matt Lopes cannot wait to get back on the mound

One swimmer’s journey from professional table tennis to WU’s first pandemic-era in-person competition


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