STILLWATER, Okla. — When he’s not on the mound, Joe Lienhard is usually quite distinguishable in the Oklahoma State dugout.
He’s the 6-foot-5, dark-haired Cowboy often seen waving an OSU towel.
It’s become his signature during his Cowboy career. The Wichita, Kansas, native who grew up the son of a former Cowboy pitcher was seen waving the towel through OSU’s run to the 2017 Big 12 Conference Tournament championship.
He’s not afraid to let it fly, while cheering on his teammates or celebrating a key moment in a game. It made a return late in Sunday’s 10-7 Bedlam win in Norman.
“The towel has definitely been a staple of mine,” Lienhard said. “I was in the bullpen on Sunday, but I pulled it out right before Bryce (Carter) hit that home run. Maybe there’s something there with it.”
Hooting and hollering for teammates, whether in the dugout or bullpen, is something Lienhard has done throughout his career. He describes it as his personality coming out while playing the game he’s fortunate to play.
“That’s just how I’ve always been,” Lienhard said. “I’ve always been trying to pick my teammates up and cheer them on. I’d hope they do the same thing when I’m out there. The main reason I do it is I know some guys need that. If that’s what I’m asked to do on that day – if I know I’m not pitching – then what I can do is get my teammates going, and that’s what I want to do. I just accept that role.
“That’s my just personality coming out right there. I just love being out here. You can’t take it for granted coming out here, because there are plenty of people who would die to be in our situation. You’ve got to love what you’re doing and come out with a great attitude.”
Yet, it’s the towel wave that has become synonymous with the senior pitcher, who is about to play his final regular season series at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium later this week.
The season, along with Lienhard’s career, won’t be coming to an end when the series with Baylor wraps up Saturday night, but OSU coach Josh Holliday will miss the towel wave when he begins his eighth year at the helm next year.
“He just finished his senior year with 4.0 back-to-back semesters,” Holliday said. “That alone confirms he came in as a boy and left a man. What I mean by that is he really understands what makes him tick. If we can leave college knowing that, we’ve got a shot to go do something awesome. What he’s done on the field has been very good. He’s been versatile, team-oriented and successful.
“His greatest contribution has been his smile and his energy. Every group has to have somebody who smiles and finds the silver lining. Every time something good happens, Joe is out there swinging his towel. If you want to know how the team’s doing, just look for Joe and his towel. That’s what I’ll always remember.”
When Lienhard’s final season is over this year, he will leave with his name in the historic program’s record books. He ranks 10th all-time in career appearances by any OSU pitcher with 71. He needs only four more to earn himself a tie for seventh place.
Lienhard has mainly been used out of the bullpen as he’s started only 29 of those 71 games. He’s compiled an 11-7 record in his 191 innings pitched as a Cowboy.
He’s been used in various roles during his four years in Stillwater. Aside from starting, he’s often been used as a mid-game reliever while sometimes earning a spot late in games.
His lone save came last year in a 4-2 mid-March home win over Missouri State. He threw the final 2/3 of an inning to earn the save in a game former teammate Carson Teel won after throwing seven innings.
Another memorable performance came last year in Austin, Texas. He threw a career-high 8 1/3 innings and struck out a career-best eight batters in a 6-1 victory to begin the series. He allowed one run on just three hits in the victory.
“It’s definitely been fun,” Lienhard said. “I’m thrown in so many different situations and it’s made me the player who I am. It’s honestly made me the person who I am. I’ve been through it all. I’ve been in different situations and I’ve had the pressure on me. It’s fun. I take it on as a challenge and I accept it.
“You fall into a little bit of trouble if you’re uneasy and your mind starts to wander, but if you go out there and control what you can control, that’s going to give you your best chance for success. That’s ultimately what I’ve tried to focus on.”
That mindset comes from Holliday and OSU pitching coach Rob Walton, who was a big reason Lienhard came to OSU. The Kapaun Mount Carmel High product who went 6-1 with a 1.47 ERA during his senior year was also recruited by Arkansas, Missouri State and Oral Roberts.
However, his family ties to OSU led him to Stillwater.
Lienhard’s father, Steve, was a four-year letterwinner as a pitcher for the Cowboys from 1984-87. His father played alongside Walton, who pitched at OSU from 1983-86. The two built a friendship that helped bring Lienhard to OSU nearly 30 years later.
“It was a big factor, honestly,” Lienhard said. “The relationship that my dad and Rob (Walton) had was probably one of the biggest keys in me coming here. They gave me a chance. They took a bit of a chance on me, because I wasn’t a highly-talented recruit or anything like that, but I couldn’t thank them enough for that opportunity – it’s all I really ever wanted in my life and they were completely 100 percent honest with me and that’s all I needed and all I wanted. I got the opportunity and I just ran with it. I knew it’s what I wanted to do. … To be able to do something that he did was something that I always wanted to do.”
Lienhard’s father will be in town this weekend when the Cowboys honor this year’s group of seniors. Other former Cowboys will also be in Stillwater for what’s supposed to be the final regular season weekend series at historic Allie P. Reynolds Stadium.
Lienhard, who earned his bachelor’s degree in sports management with a minor in marketing, said this week has a different feel to it with no classes to attend. He’s graduated and only has baseball to focus on, while the rest of his life – whether in baseball or not – will remain in limbo until his time as a Cowboy is complete.
“It’s going to be very bittersweet,” Lienhard said. “Looking back, there is so much to be thankful for. Being able to come out here one more time, or who knows how many more times we’re going to get, we’ve got to take it one day at a time and don’t take anything for granted. Hopefully, we send it out with a bang, that’s for sure. It’s given me so much of my life, so I hope I can give back to it.”
Follow News Press sports reporter Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for updates on Oklahoma State baseball.