David Sheaffer was eager to make an early impression as a major league prospect in his first year playing college baseball last fall.
Then the catcher was thrown a major curveball.
Selected in the 38th round of the 2013 first-year players draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, Sheaffer opted to play baseball at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California.
But a stress fracture in his back forced the North Surry graduate to miss the spring season, and delayed his start this summer with the West Virginia Miners, a team in the Prospect League.
Now fully recovered, Sheaffer has been able to focus on getting back in the swing of things. It looks like his swing is certainly back. The Mount Airy native delivered a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning to lift the Miners to a 7-6 victory against Chilicothe on Aug. 2.
“It was a great feeling. I haven’t had a big hit like that in a while,” Sheaffer said. “They called me to pinch hit, and I came up with the bases loaded and two outs. I hit a fastball up the middle.”
West Virginia’s baseball season ended earlier this week. Sheaffer returned to Mount Airy on Wednesday for a short break until his sophomore year gets under way at The Master’s College. When he arrived at college last year, Sheaffer said he felt some off and on back pain during the fall baseball season. He brushed it off at first, until the pain got the point he could no longer ignore it.
“One day it got really bad. I had to come out of a game,” Sheaffer said. “I’m not sure how I hurt it. I think it was the combination of lifting, swinging and overuse in the fall.”
“At first they thought it was a stress reaction, not a break. That it was just inflamed. I didn’t know I was going to end up missing the whole season. (The pain) never went away.”
After X-rays, MRIs and finally a CT scan, the diagnosis was two stress fractures in his L2 vertebrae.
After eight weeks in a back brace, another CT scan revealed that the injury had worsened, so Sheaffer had to wear it another eight weeks.
Sheaffer would miss the spring season at The Master’s.
“When it first happened, it was super discouraging,” he said. “Just the realizaton I wouldn’t get to play a lot was super tough.”
Having the encouragement of teammates, coaches and family helped keep Sheaffer’s spirits up. His father, Danny, is the manager of the Princeton Rays, a rookie league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“He’s probably been the biggest encouragement besides my teammates and coaches through the whole thing,” Sheaffer said. “He called or texted me me every day, telling me the Lord had a plan, and that good things are going to come from it. He reminded me that there’s a reason behind it. God’s in control, and has a plan.
“Even during a tough time like that, you can still find ways to be a good teammate and honor the Lord in any way you can even though you aren’t on the field playing.”
The pursuit of the dream to play professional baseball can wait for Sheaffer, whose dad played in the major leagues over a 10-year period from 1987-1997. A first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 1981 MLB Amateur Draft, Danny Sheaffer played with the Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals as a catcher and infielder.
2013 was Danny Sheaffer’s first year with the Rays organization after six seasons with the Houston Astros.
While the young man hopes to follow in his dad’s footsteps, David has no regrets about the decision to put pro baseball on hold until after school. Sheaffer’s major is business management and marketing.
“I didn’t plan on signing unless something crazy happened,” said Sheaffer, whose brother Daniel also played at The Master’s College. “It was an easy decision. I knew I was going to go to school.”
After being home-schooled, the talented Sheaffer decided to go to North Surry his senior year. He caught the eye of baseball scouts as a catcher with the Greyhounds, and the Rays offered him a minor league contract in June. Sheaffer is hopeful he can continue to improve his skills and enhance his draft stock for the future.
Playing in the Prospect League offered the chance for Sheaffer to get a confidence boost against some excellent competition. The Miners (Beckley, West Virginia) played a heavy schedule with 60 games from May 29-Aug. 5 in a division with teams from Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Although he’s had to adjust his weightlifting routine, Sheaffer’s approach on the field hasn’t changed since the back injury.
“My back feels great now,” said Sheaffer, who hit .240 for the summer. “I got back in swing of things, and started feeling a lot better. It was a great experience and an unforgettable team.”