By Lilly Trunnell
Senior Outfielder Jeff Gardner doesn’t remember one particular instance where baseball became part of his life. Baseball was easy for him to pick up, came naturally, and Gardner developed a passion for it young.
Of course, it’s easy to throw yourself into a sport with the support from family. Gardner called baseball a “family sport.” Growing up in Louisville he has the benefit of looking into the stands and seeing them all sitting there, cheering him on no matter what.
But Gardner hasn’t needed much cheering through hard times this season. As one of two senior captains he has led the top 10 ranked Cardinals to a 26-8 overall record. Gardner tops the Cardinals in hitting with a collective batting average of .367. His 40 runs batted in are nine more than the second most and he also has three home runs, including the walk off homer in the very first game of the season. Perhaps Gardner has an edge batting from the left, or maybe it’s the sheer passion he has for the game.
“I want to bring glory to Christ in all that I do,” Gardner said.
His faith is deep-rooted and seems to be working for him. Gardner goes beyond baseball. He has been known to say that he lives his life summed up by a quote from Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” He strives to be the kind of person that his teammates can come to with anything, and provide positive support and motivation for the team.
Like most athletes, Gardner can pick out a coach from his past that impacted his ability. Interestingly enough the coach was not baseball. Mike Doig was Gardner’s high school basketball coach. Gardner credits him with making him the athlete he is today. Even though he says he “wasn’t very good” at basketball and knew baseball was where he was really going, Coach Doig infused in Gardner the desire to strive for excellence always.
Professionally, Ted Williams is an icon for Gardner, “Because he was the last guy to hit .400,” he says with a hint of admiration in his voice. Ever since he was a kid, Williams was the favorite player of young Gardner. The baseball great’s legacy and the motivation of his coach have led Gardner to the 2011 All-Big East Team, 2012 second Team All-Big East, a 2013 Team Captainship, being named Big East Player of the Week twice last season, 2013 First Team All-Big East, 2013 Louisville Regional All-Tournament Team, and a 2014 Team Captainship. Despite all these accolades, Gardner still sees a team achievement as his biggest success. He picks out the highlight of his career so far as the 2013 trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
“I would trade away all the other awards if I could just keep that,” Gardner said.
After losing seven classmates to the draft last season, Gardner had to take on a new role of responsibility this year.
“The seniors have seen it all,” he says. “Losing those guys impacted the chemistry at first, but we bond well now.” His sights are set forward. In his last season as a Cardinal, Gardner has one thing in mind. “Going back (to Omaha) would mean the world to me.” Beyond that, he hopes to continue his career by going professional after his graduation from U of L with a Justice Administration degree.
Jeff Gardner is having a season to watch and is leading the team both statistically and in leadership. He is certainly a player to watch in the remaining games this season and potential postseason play.
“I try to go out every day and praise Jesus in all that I do, and make a few friends along the way.”