Spectators took their cue from Garrett Appier before he stepped in the shot-put circle and started rhythmic clapping. He collected the iron ball, took his position in the back and started his spin.
The next two sounds were Appier’s grunt and the crowd’s approval as the ball hit earth.
Unlike other throws in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association outdoor track and field meet on Sunday at Northwest Missouri, this heave required additional measurement and a second tape was applied.
“Twenty point four-three,” was the call in meters.
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Appier’s fifth throw would be his longest of the day, 67 feet, 1/2 inch. He won the event for the third straight year on his first throw, and the day — his last few weeks, actually — was about seeing how much farther Appier could go.
With dizzying speed, Appier, a fifth-year senior from Pittsburg State and son of former Royals pitcher Kevin Appier, has zoomed up the shot-put ranks. Not just in NCAA Division II but nationally and internationally.
He came into the weekend with the sixth-longest throw this year in the United States. Only six competitors in the world had surpassed that distance, 68 feet, 2 1/2 inches, which occurred April 29 at a meet in Joplin, Mo.
By the end of that event, Appier had nine of the top 12 throws in NCAA Division II history. He had thrown about 8 feet beyond his NCAA outdoor championship mark a year ago.
“I knew he was going to have a good season, and I thought he’d break the Division II record, but by this much?” said Brian Mantooth, a Pitt State assistant track coach who oversees throws. “No, this is above and beyond my expectation for this point in his career.”
Beyond everybody’s, including Appier.
“I don’t know what to say about it,” Appier said. “It’s happening kind of fast.”
So fast that timetables are being adjusted. Appier and Mantooth were thinking about the 2020 Olympics when the year started.
But Appier, a former state champion at Paola High, will be headed in July to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore., looking to secure a spot in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janerio.
“That’s the goal now,” Appier said.
Appier’s father will be there, as he was Sunday, wearing a Pitt State cap. Kevin Appier gets to as many meets as he can, learning about the sport unfamiliar to him.
“I wasn’t on a track team, I really know little about it,” Appier said. “But this really has been a breakout year.”
Dad, superb at throws from 60 feet, 6 inches, knows something about those. He spent 13 of his 16 major-league seasons with the Royals. He’s the club’s career leader in strikeouts and is fourth in victories.
Kevin Appier was an All-Star with the Royals, won a World Series ring with the Angels and as much fun as he had bringing Garrett to Kauffman Stadium as a kid, he’s having a blast watching his 23-year-old son climb the ranks in this sport.
“This is awesome,” Kevin Appier said. “I’m so proud of him. It’s not something I can help him much with.”
Sports are filled with offspring of baseball players who chose a different career path. The dads of Big 12 quarterbacks Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Texas’ Shane Buechele — Pat and Steve — each spent more than a decade in the majors.
But a shot-putting progeny? Garrett didn’t grow up with a shot-put circle on his dad’s ranch in Paola. But he did grow up open-minded when it came to sports.
“My dad was always really supportive in athletics,” Garrett Appier said. “He actually wanted me to play other stuff besides baseball. He didn’t want me to be that kid who was always compared to his father.
“When I got into track he was pretty excited. If you make your own name there, more power to you.”
Garrett played some baseball. He spent his first 2 1/2 high school years at Park Hill South High, living at his mother’s home, and tried out for baseball as a freshman. “But I was kind of a fat kid and really hadn’t played in about five years,” he said.
Something else occurred that spring that changed young Appier’s trajectory, or rather started it. He went out for track and his size and shape pushed him to the throws. The conference held a meet for freshmen and Appier won the shot put.
He liked gripping and heaving a 16-pound iron ball, and a history buff, Appier was struck by the appearance of the stone throw that’s part of the Highland Games, which celebrate Scottish culture. “It was just cool to see,” he said. “And we do that with the shot put.”
Also, the winning was fun and inspiring. He gained confidence and thought about giving baseball another shot.
“I actually started to train hard,” he said. “I lost weight, played catch a lot with my dad, hit off him.”
Appier got better but he had reached a crossroads.
“If I played baseball I’d just be on the team,” he said. “If I do track, I might be able to go to state. So I stayed with track.”
But switched schools. In the second semester of his junior year, Appier moved to his dad’s home in Paola, and joined coach Mike Smith’s track program. The staff included throws coach Frank Perbeck, a former Big Eight javelin champion at Kansas State.
Perbeck worked with Appier on technique — he transitioned to a spin move as a Paola senior — and weight room training. That May, Paola shot putters finished 1-2-3 at the Kansas Class 4A championships with the team taking the state title. Appier took second. His state championship came the next year.
When it came time to pick a college, Appier looked into K-State because of Perbeck and Mizzou because that’s the alma mater of former world champion and Olympic silver medalist Christian Cantwell. Appier said Pitt State won out for its small-town atmosphere, and that was the school of his high school friend Luke Wilson, who won the state title when Appier finished second.
The transition proved difficult. Appier felt overwhelmed as a freshman and ill for part of his sophomore year, when he was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, an iron disorder. By the time he reached his third year, Appier’s best college throw was less than 47 feet.
“So nothing really came of my first two years,” Appier said.
But in 2014, Appier won six meets, including the MIAA outdoor title, finished fourth at the NCAA Division II meet and earned All-America status.
The next year, six more meet victories and this time a Division II outdoor championship with a heave of 60-8 3/4 .
That effort is why Pitt State coaches and the Appier camp braced for a big year and planned for a promising future, like the following — not these — Olympics.
Listed at 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, Appier looks the part of an elite thrower, but there’s room to grow.
“He’s strong but not overly strong yet,” Mantooth said. “A lot of great shot putters are barrel chested and big in the hips. Garrett’s chest is going to get bigger, his shoulders will thicken up.”
But what Appier has is an athletic edge.
“He moves faster than most athletes at this level and foe his size,” Mantooth said. “You get someone his size moving at a high rate of speed, creating that momentum, good things will happen.”
And they’ll happen sooner than anybody expects.