From the time University of Utah baseball senior Wade Gulden was able to walk, he was either playing with a football in the front yard, kicking a soccer ball or carrying a bat around in his hands. His love and passion for sports were undeniable, so much so that his parents had to sign waivers just so Gulden could play on teams a year earlier than other kids. From tee-ball, flag football, soccer, high school basketball, baseball and one year of football, Gulden wanted to get a taste of as many sports as possible.
“The kid is just a natural,” said Gulden’s mom, Diane. “It’s just been so much fun, because his dad and I aren’t the athletes that he is. He just has a gift of God. He can play anything.”
The ability to go from the diamond, to the court or to the field not only taught Gulden the importance of learning how to adjust and focus on the task at hand, but it allowed him to experience more opportunities. Playing several different sports growing up was more than just exciting for an athletic and talented kid from Redding, California — it was preparing him for a baseball career that would allow him to play a handful of different positions within the game itself.
At Shasta High School, Gulden pitched and played shortstop. Many people told him he was a better pitcher than a position player, and that led him to believe one day he would play college baseball as a pitcher.
“Any extra money or time was spent getting better on the mound rather than my swing or anything like that,” Wade said.
Pitching wouldn’t be Wade’s claim to fame though.
Wade went down to a showcase in Arizona with a local Redding team for a week-long baseball tournament. A team they were supposed to face forfeited, so Wade’s team had an open practice field for a couple of hours. Although no game was going on, Wade was putting his position playing skills on display in front of his soon-to-be future coach who he didn’t know was in attendance.
After he finished fielding ground ball after ground ball, Wade’s coach told him that Utah baseball’s pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Crawford had been sitting in the stands watching, and he was interested. Crawford came to a few more games before making an offer to have Wade join the Utes.
“Utah wasn’t even on my radar to be honest,” Wade said. “Not anything against the school, but I was looking more at California, West Coast schools closer to home.”
After the offer was made, Wade, who was recruited as a shortstop, said it was a “no-brainer.” It was the best offer he had received, and he was not going to turn it down.
“It was probably more of a relief than anything, because there was interest from other schools, a couple of smaller offers,” Wade said. “But nothing was set in stone. This was like, ‘Wow, I got something. All that work paid off.’ Then to have it be a Pac-12 school, it would have had to take something pretty crazy to change my mind after that.”
As a new Ute in 2015, Wade played in 47 games, and he tallied 29 starts. Twenty-three of those starts were in left field, two at designated hitter and four at first. The following season he made 16 appearances with one start at first and one at second. Coming off his latest campaign as a junior, Wade saw time on the diamond in 45 games with 37 starts at designated hitter. Over the past three years, he has had five starts at the position he feels is his natural position — first base.
“Hunter [Simmons] and I split time at first my freshman year,” Wade said. “He beat me out the next two years, and I’m hoping to regain that. I want to play a position every day. DH was cool, but it’s hard to get in a rhythm when you’re just hitting. I want to play every game at first base.”
With this individual goal in sight and this being the first time Wade hasn’t played summer baseball since before junior high, he is using this time to prepare for a new season. He’s working out to meet his goals, and he is hitting at least five days a week. Not only is the versatile kid wanting to earn the chance to play first base on a more consistent basis, he wants to be more of a leader his final season. He wants to continue to play with the spark and energy he had when he was fielding ground balls, not knowing his future involved a Utah coach sitting in the stands.