Mitchell Garver has seen the good times, and now he’s living through the bad times.
As All-American candidate Rafael Neda’s backup, Garver played on one of the best teams in UNM baseball history in 2010, a squad that made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1962. Garver is now the catcher for a team that has so far mustered a 10-27 record.
“It’s a grind,” Garver said.
One that will be worth it if Garver develops into the player head coach Ray Birmingham thinks he can be.
Birmingham said Garver can be better than Neda, who was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft.
“I still think that he has a better swing than Rafael Neda has,” he said. “Rafael waited longer and went the other way most of his career and pulled the ball when he needed to pull the ball. (Garver) knows how to hit the ball around the ball park, but he needs to be a little more aggressive with his intelligence early on in the count.”
At the University, Garver has played with some of the best hitters in UNM history. Garver watched ball players like Ryan Honeycutt, Max Willett and Justin Howard — who led the nation in batting last year — knock pitches around college parks.
Garver said Birmingham told him at the beginning of the season that he could be a Lobo legend.
“He told me how good he thought I could be,” Garver said. “I took it upon my shoulders to make that one of my goals, to be one of the top hitters in the country.”
So far, Garver’s batting average .343 this season, and he has played in all 37 of UNM’s games.
Considering that he hasn’t had time to adjust to Isotopes Park, Garver’s batting average is even more impressive. UNM has played more road games (31) than home games (24) this season.
Garver said it’s not only about being forceful at the plate, but establishing a solid batting technique. He said he has changed how he takes pitches at the plate.
“It’s what I work on every day,” he said. “I feel like I have the abilities to do anything, but it’s my mental side and my mental approach of what I do day-to-day. I like to (hit to) the opposite field, and I like to be a gap hitter rather than a home run hitter.”
UNM, however, just needs runs in general — and will take them from wherever and whoever.
The Lobos have played three ranked teams on the road and have lost all but one game.
They still travel to face No. 17 Oklahoma and will host No. 11 TCU in their final season series.
One big inning, Garver said, has doomed UNM in close games.
“It’s not the best scenario right now,” he said. “But the toughest thing is hanging in there with the top teams in the nation, and it’ll all fall apart one inning. … It’s a little disappointing to lose those big games, and the should-have, would-have, could-haves come into play.”
Still, Garver said he’s learned from the struggles. And, like Neda, Garver said he has the same dream.
“My goal as baseball player is to make the big leagues,” he said. “I want to play the game the right way and pay my respects to the game.”