He grabs his glove and trots out to his position, kicking around the loose dirt that surrounds second base as he prepares to take ground balls. This is a ritual most players don’t pay much attention to, but for one Diamond Hog getting to lace up his cleats and take the field this season is sweeter than usual.
Brett McAfee began his collegiate baseball career at Panola Junior College in Carthage, Texas. After just one season with the Ponies, he transferred to the University of Arkansas. Despite suiting up just 16 times during his freshman year, he was named the top transfer in the SEC by Perfect Game USA in its conference preview.
The 6-0 middle infielder lived up to the hype. In his debut season with the Diamond Hogs, he played in 50 games and finished the 2013 season with 12 multi-hit games and a .263 batting average.
After a successful sophomore campaign, McAfee was looking forward to his second year of wearing the Cardinal and White. Through the first 15 games of the 2014 campaign the starting shortstop hit .277 and recorded a trio of multi-RBI contests during a season that ended much earlier than expected.
McAfee suffered a severe back injury and was granted a medical redshirt to secure his year of eligibility. It was a devastating loss, but the Hogs made due by substituting junior college transfer Michael Bernal in his place.
“I was very frustrated when it happened,” McAfee said. “I think I’ve embraced it and just rolled with it. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
Unfortunately, he is no stranger to injury. During his senior year he underwent Tommy John surgery causing him to miss his final year of high school play at Pine Tree High School in Longview, Texas.
“I’ve had to deal with a couple pretty big injuries,” McAfee said. “One in high school that took me out for my entire senior season. That was pretty tough, but I think that kind of helped me get through situations like I had to deal with last year.”
Immediately after hurting his back he began yet another long road to recovery. The kinesiology major spent the remainder of the 2014 season and offseason with strength and conditioning coach, Mike Strouhal, working hard to get back between the lines.
“We strengthened my body, stretched it out, did just about everything we could,” McAfee said. “This entire fall and so far this spring I’ve never felt better.”
When he passes through the door that leads to the dugout for his return to George Cole Field, he will walk beneath a red and white sign that reads, “Ballplayers only!” McAfee has indeed proven himself a ballplayer, as it’s not all about what he has done on the field, but how he handled the adversity that makes him a true Razorback and ballplayer. As the 2015 matchups gets closer, McAfee is excited to get back on the field and return to the game that he has worked so hard for.
“Playing with these guys is a fun feeling,” McAfee said. “We’re going to take one game at a time. Our goal is to win baseball games any way we can.”
McAfee and the Razorbacks open the 2015 campaign Feb. 13, playing host to North Dakota in a three-game series at Baum Stadium.