Justin Schafer has been on a tear as of late.
A native of Los Gatos, Calif., Schafer is working off a 12-game hitting streak, nine of which have been multiple-hit games to push his average to a UC Davis-best .351 on the season.
Schafer, known as “Chief” by his teammates, missed the majority of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. This season, Schafer suffered an ankle injury in preseason that kept him out of the Aggie lineup for the first nine ballgames.
Since his return, Schafer has been an everyday infielder, and a staple at the top of the UC Davis lineup for coach Rex Peters. He leads Aggie hitters with a .409 on base percentage and six steals.
At the beginning of yesterday’s practice, Schafer took some time to chat with Aggie Sports Writer John Heller about everything from the UC Davis baseball team’s season to walkout songs.
Today is the last practice of the season. What’s on the agenda?
We’re actually doing a relaxing practice, just going out there and having fun going into the last weekend. We didn’t have the year we were hoping for, but there’s nothing you can do about it now. Just go out and have fun and hopefully win a couple games to end the season.
You were out last season after having Tommy John surgery. How hard was it to be out rehabbing while the team qualified for and participated in the NCAA Tournament?
Honestly, it was probably the toughest baseball experience of my life. Going into last year, there was a general consensus among the team that we were going to be a good squad. It really sucked when I hurt my arm because I knew we were going to be good. I knew it was going to be a special year – a team I wanted to be part of. Sitting on the sidelines during that year was really difficult. It motivated me to work hard and get back as fast as I could. Our athletic trainer really helped me out. I was pretty much game ready in 10 months.
What did you learn about yourself and about the game of baseball while you were just sitting there watching others play the game?
It was tough, but how hard I worked to get back really reassured myself of what I want to do. My goals and my passion for playing the game are there.
Last season, you were out while the team prospered. This season, the team has struggled while you’ve been finding success. What is this season’s side of the coin feeling like?
I mean, it’s tough when you’re not winning. … I think more than anything, this year we need to learn. I think we have what it takes to make a push next year – to make the regionals again like last year.
If you could trade your success right now for a winning record for the team would you do it?
Absolutely. I was in the dugout for the regionals last year. The guys were having so much fun, competing with a chance to go to the College World Series. I was just sitting there helpless. I would definitely trade [my success] for that feeling.
How close is this team? How do you guys get along?
All these guys are my buddies. It’s a close team. I’ve been roommates with Alex Dreyfuss for three years.
Would you say that this tough season has brought you guys closer together?
Definitely. No one is really having the year they wanted to or thought they were going to have. It’s been tough.
Everyone on the team gets to pick their own walkout music for when they head from the on-deck circle to the batters box. What’s your song and why?
Well, to be honest, I was hurt to start the year so I never really chose a song. I never submitted one. The guys in the press box just gave me a song. I think it’s like “Born to be Wild” or something. I don’t really mind – so far it’s been working. Maybe I’ll stick with that song next year.
Who has the best or funniest song?
Jared Thompson walks out to a song about [Buffalo Bills running back] Marshawn Lynch. Tim Busbin, his roommate, edited the song so it says, “Jared Thompson on the beast mode.” So every time he comes up, you can hear Tim rapping. We all laugh about that.
What can fans, readers and dorky sports writers expect from the 2010 UC Davis baseball team?
I think this team really wants to win. This season opened a lot of eyes for all of us. I think this summer we’re all going to go home and do everything we can to get ourselves better individually. Next year, when we put all our individual improvements together, we could have quite the team with the talent we have. I think there might be something to look forward next year with this team. Next year could be a good year.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What every baseball players says: hopefully, playing professional baseball somewhere. If I’m lucky enough to get that chance, then I have to take advantage of it. That’s my ultimate goal.
JOHN S. HELLER can be reached at email@example.com.