Harrison Bader was set to enroll at Maryland as a walk-on outfielder before getting noticed at a Perfect Game tournament by Florida assistant coach Craig Bell. Bell immediately called Kevin O’Sullivan to tell him about the prospect he had just watched and as fate would have it, Bader was offered a partial scholarship — one he obviously accepted — to attend Florida.
Bader saw action in all 59 games as a freshman in 2013, making 57 starts, leading the team in batting (.312), stolen bases (15) and tied with Justin Shafer as the team leaders in hits (69).
Just a sophomore, Bader was being counted on start in the outfield and hit third for a young Florida team looking to bounce back from a difficult 2013 campaign. That was the plan right up to 12 days prior to the season opener against the Maryland team to which Bader was once committed.
Everything changed when Bader was involved in an on-campus scooter accident in the early morning hours of February 2. Suspended immediately from all team activities for breaking team rules, Bader hasn’t played in a game this season but that will change this weekend when he’s scheduled to make his first appearance of the season in the series finale against Arkansas.
“It’s obviously been some time since he’s played,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve given him some live at bats this week during practice. We’re anxious to get him back out there.”
Florida should expect an offensive boost when Bader is injected into the lineup but it’s not just his bat that the team is looking forward to getting back. Bader is well liked by his teammates and one of the bigger personalities on the team.
“It’s going to be huge having him back. We know that we definitely missed him and just having him in the dugout,” junior catcher Taylor Gushue said. “He’s a big personality on this team and we’re glad to have him back.”
Bader is young and everyone makes mistakes. The important part in the process is learning and growing from them. Bader’s closest friend on the team — Richie Martin — knows Bader ever so well. He knows Bader isn’t a bad person, just someone who would take a bad decision back in a heartbeat if he could. The incident was disappointing to the team but one that they have moved past.
“It was a little disappointing but everyone makes mistakes,” Martin said. “I’m just really glad to get Harrison back. He’s been practicing with us and he’s one of my best friends on the team. I love him and I’m just really glad he can get back.
“He’s not a bad kid, I mean he’s a really good kid. Nothing has really changed. I noticed that in the cage and on the field he’s really focused. I know he’s itching to get back out there.”
With Florida set to host Arkansas (8-5) this weekend to kick off the SEC schedule there is no better time to get Bader back into the lineup.
The Gators bats have awakened the past two games and with a talented Razorback rotation coming in, Florida will need those bats to stay hot.