So far, it's been a rough season for the BYU baseball team. The Cougars own a losing record overall and they're languishing in fifth place in the Mountain West Conference standings.

But as difficult as things have been at times on the field, junior outfielder Kent Walton is simply happy to be playing. He knows there's a fate far worse — not playing at all.

A few months ago, Walton's BYU ecclesiastical endorsement was withdrawn, rendering him ineligible to compete for the Cougars. The school, which is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, requires all incoming and continuing students to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement from their religious leaders.

Walton's bishop withdrew the ecclesiastical endorsement because of a perceived lack of attendance and activity in his student ward. It meant that Walton wouldn't be able to play for BYU in 2008.

Ken Walton, Kent's father, assisted his son in an appeal process. Weeks later, Walton's ecclesiastic endorsement was reinstated and he rejoined the team in time for the season.

"It was a tough experience, to think that baseball can be taken away so easily," Walton said. "It was real depressing. It was hard to watch my teammates practice and not be able to. I learned you can't take baseball for granted. I try not to dwell on it anymore. I'm just glad I'm playing."

Walton is batting .328 with 10 doubles, six triples, four home runs and 33 RBIs for BYU (18-26 overall, 6-9 in the MWC). He smacked two of those homers this week in a two-game sweep of Northern Colorado.

The Cougars have endured an up-and-down campaign, which includes being swept in a conference series for the first time by TCU. BYU's recent loss at Air Force snapped the Falcons' 55-game conference losing streak.

"Our season has been really inconsistent. We've shown some good and some bad," Walton said. "We've been streaky. Our hitters have been hot lately, and our pitching is coming around. We need our pitchers to just throw strikes. As long as we finish the season strong, it won't matter what we did the first part of the season."

Starting today (7 p.m.), BYU returns home for a three-game series against league-leader New Mexico (11-4 in MWC play).

"It's good to be coming home and this is a big series," Walton said. "It's a different year from the past. It's a year where it's just not TCU running away with the championship. The conference is up for grabs."

Walton is the latest player in a pipeline from Yucaipa, Calif., that have played in Provo, starting with Jeff Brown, who played for the Cougars in the mid-1980s. More recently, Matt and Clayton Carson and Ryan Chambers wore BYU blue. Another Yucaipa product, pitcher/infielder Adam Miller, has signed with the Cougars.

"A lot of players from Yucaipa have had a good experience in Provo," Walton said. "They've gotten a lot of playing time. When I was debating which college to go to, I talked to the Carsons and Ryan Chambers. It sounded like it was the right fit for me."

BYU vs. New Mexico

Today: 7 p.m.

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Friday: 7 p.m.

Saturday: 1 p.m.

All games played at Larry H. Miller Field


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