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Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gaffney returning to form after football career

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Pittsburgh Pirates’ prospect Tyler Gaffney sits at 27-years old, not the young, fresh out of high school or college prospect Minor League fans have come to get used to. The former Stanford standout was a young prospect at one point, but he put his baseball career on hold to pursue a football career.

That football career yielded Gaffney two Super Bowl rings as a member of the New England Patriots, however, said career also yielded a multitude of injuries. Those injuries have led Gaffney to where he is today, back in the Pirates’ farm system and in Altoona, PA. suiting up for the Curve.

“You normally only get one shot to become a baseball player, to become a football player,”

Gaffney said about his decision to play baseball. “I had to take the opportunity with where I was in life,”

Prior to the 2018 season, Gaffney hadn’t suited up in a baseball uniform since 2012, when he was drafted out of Stanford by the Pirates in the 24th round of the MLB Draft.

Gaffney was hitting .291/.391/.470 in Bradenton prior to his call-up.

The Low Down on Gaffney

Measurables:

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 225-pounds

College:

Gaffney was drafted in the 24th round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, however, in 2014 it was the Carolina Panthers of the NFL that drafted the dual-sport Cardinal.

Professional:

Gaffney appeared with the then short-season affiliate State College Spikes to get his feet wet in the professional baseball realm. Following that summer with the Spikes, the right-handed hitting Gaffney returned to his football career at Stanford knowing someday he would be back with the Pirates.

It took two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots and a five year professional football career, but Gaffney is back with the Pirates and currently in Altoona playing for the Curve.

In his first go-round as a professional baseball player, Gaffney hit .297 with a .925 OPS.

In comparing the stats, it’s safe to say Gaffney, did not miss a beat in the six years he was away from the game of baseball.

In his coach’s words:

With Bryan Reynolds and Jason Martin locking down left and center field for the Curve, there’s a rotation in right field where Gaffney is sure to fit in. According to manager Michael Ryan, the hot hand will be who gets the most time in right field.

“It’s going to be wide open in right with a combination of Hill, Gaffney, and Jackson,” Ryan said. Whoever has played the best, I guess, or whoever has earned it will play more often. The Pirates organization wants to see what Gaffney has and he’s going to get every opportunity.

Gaffney will get plenty of opportunities on the field, but it will be in the locker room where his veteran and diverse presence will be felt the most.

“Just experience of what a team locker room looks like, football is more of a team sport than the individual sport of baseball at times,” Ryan said. He can give some of these guys examples and some lessons learned that he’s gone through. He’s a grown man with a family, that’s something our players can watch and see how he acts as a far as a man and responsibilities. He’s a good addition.”

With a football background that saw Gaffney primarily used on practice squads with Carolina, New England, and Jacksonville, Ryan and company knew they were getting an athletic and tough individual before he stepped foot at Pirate City this year.

“Athletic, he can do a lot of things, he’s fast, he’s got a lot of skills he can bring on to the baseball field,” Ryan said. “He’s tough minded and tough physically.”

As for the ceiling of the former running back and current right fielder, Ryan suggests its wait and see for the time being, but don’t count a guy like Gaffney out.

“I think that’s still wait and see,” Ryan said. “The work ethic, I think he’s the type of guy who will will himself to great things. I’m putting my money on him just by the way he works, the way he acts, and what he’s been through.”

In his own words:

Gaffney is no longer the young, 21-year old prospect he once was, but the experiences he has faced throughout his professional careers have set him up to succeed no matter what level he plays at.

“It was in my heart, it was my passion,” Gaffney said of his decision to go back to Stanford to finish his football career.

That decision resulted in being drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 2014 NFL Draft, but a knee injury in training camp ended his stint with the Panthers before it really started.

It was with the New England Patriots where Gaffney was able to learn how to be successful and make even more from his football experience albeit primarily on the practice squad.

“I got to learn how to be successful from the most successful maybe dynasty that’s ever been in play for a sports team,” Gaffney raved about the Patriots. “Learning under Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, I just tried to soak up everything I could because football is not for long.”

Injuries forced Gaffney to reconsider his future both in the NFL and in baseball and he realized quickly he had an open door to come back to the Pirates and restart his professional baseball career.

“I was going to work my hardest to get it going. And injury, injury, injury, injury, I think that was the writing on the wall that, if I was going to come back and play baseball, it was now or never.”

Getting back to baseball, though, was particularly difficult for Gaffney. Football and baseball use completely different muscles during participation in their respective fields of play and that was crucial as Gaffney restarted his baseball career in spring training this March. A lack of instant success played key in negative thoughts creeping in Gaffney’s head as he contemplated his decision to come back.

“It’d been a while. I can honestly say I questioned it a little bit during spring training,” Gaffney said. “Body parts I haven’t used in a while were hurting. I wasn’t being as successful as I would hope and expect of myself right out of the gates. But I stuck with the process and said I’m not here to quit during my first year. I’m here to figure out what the hell’s going on. and so far so good.”

While Gaffney still has a long way to go to reach his goals, advancing to Double-A is a good start. His experiences thus far have paved the way for his continued climb through the grind of Minor League Baseball, and he’s happily back playing a game he loves.

“Being back, having gone to the NFL, seeing what that world was, having gone to college, finished school and where I’m at in life – I have two kids and a wife now- going through minor league ball is a special thing,” Gaffney said. “It’s tough, it’s a grind, it’s gritty, it’s dirty at times. And when you’re here, these dudes really love it. Because it’s not paying the bills, it’s not keeping your family afloat.”

It’s no secret the money minor leaguers don’t make while they make their climbs up the ranks so it does take a special person to come back to that grind and fully embrace it like Gaffney has while he chases his dream of being a Major League Baseball player.

“You’re here because you love the game and you have a dream, and I think that’s in full force for me and exactly why I’m here.” Gaffney said.

Jarrod Prugar has rebounded from being the first person ever thrown out of a Three Rivers Classic to cover the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and the 2017 Eastern League Championship. A 2013 graduate of Robert Morris University, Jarrod currently resides in Altoona where he works as a Recreation professional. He also coaches baseball and football at the middle school level. Along with his Altoona Curve coverage, Jarrod's work can be found at Pittsburgh Sports Report where he covers Penn State athletics. Jarrod also co-hosts Clear the Deck on Locked On Pirates.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

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You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the links below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

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Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

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You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

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