Harrison Bader waited. He waited 42 days and 19 baseball games for this moment.
He knew that he would have to after getting into a scooter accident that was investigated as a DUI. He knew the act would force Kevin O’Sullivan’s hand. The only thing Bader could do after messing up was own up to his mistake, face the consequences and support his teammates.
Having the game you love taken away from you is difficult; having a solid support system makes it easier.
“It was difficult but the most important thing is just to be positive,” Bader said after making his debut on Sunday. “Everyone’s been supporting me; my family, my teammates, my friends back home, everyone’s been supportive and they’ve showed the utmost support of me. When you have that behind you it makes things a lot easier. Positivity was the most important.”
Staying positive was tough at first. Initially, Bader was suspended from all team activities. Just a sophomore, he was supposed to step into a leadership role this season, bat third in the lineup and patrol center field, while setting an example for a young team — but you can’t do that when you’re not around.
Bader worked. He worked in the batting cage and in the weight room until he was allowed back at practice. A player that Taylor Gushue described as “one of the biggest personalities in the dugout,” Bader showed he was thankful for the second chance and for the support that his team gave him by giving it back.
“I’ve just been working, support my teammates every way I can,” he said.
Then finally, the day came. After playing in every game as a freshman, this wasn’t just another game for the sophomore slugger.
“It was difficult, a little bit, initially. You just have a lot of nerves, stuff like that but physically and everything I was prepared,” Bader said. “I’ve been working hard, ive been getting at bats and stuff like that. So, physically fine, mentally just a little amped up.”
Despite the nerves, Bader performed well, going 2-4 in his debut and playing a solid center field. “He swung the bat really good,” O’Sullivan said after the game.
His teammates were happy. When asked what it was like to get one of their leaders back, junior Braden Mattson simply smiled and pumped his fist.
“Really nice, yeah really nice,” he said. “He’s a three-hole kinda guy.”
Bader’s return is big for the Gators and it comes at an important time of the season. Florida just wrapped up its first conference series and will host No. 2 Florida State on Tuesday before traveling to College Station to faceoff with the Aggies of Texas A&M for their second conference series.