Imagine being athletic enough to make a living in professional football and baseball.
Tyler Gaffney isn’t making a big check in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor-league system, but he quietly shifted sports over the football offseason. Gaffney was an interesting running back coming out of Stanford, a sixth-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2014, and his NFL career never really took off because of injuries. Still, he owns two Super Bowl rings from his time with the New England Patriots.
Now he’s chasing a World Series ring, though he has a long way to go. Gaffney gave up football to join the Pirates’ organization as a right-handed hitting outfielder. Presumably, he brings some speed to the position.
MLB.com’s Adam Berry wrote at the beginning of the minor-league season about Gaffney’s athletic odyssey. He was selected in the 24th round of the Major League Baseball draft in 2012. That year, he played 38 games with the State College Spikes in short-season Single A. He hit .297 with a strong .925 OPS, but he went back to Stanford and ended up getting on NFL teams’ radars with 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns running for the Cardinal in 2013. So football it was, for a while.
Gaffney suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2014 with Carolina. He was claimed (controversially) by the Patriots after he was waived. Then came another season-ending knee injury in 2015. In 2016, it was a toe injury that knocked him out at the end of a solid preseason. Gaffney was with the Jaguars for a little more than a week last August before he was cut. He never appeared in an NFL regular-season game, but got his Super Bowl rings for being on New England’s injured reserve in 2014 and on the practice squad for much of the 2016 season.
Even when Gaffney was trying to make his NFL dream happen, he had baseball on his mind.
“My dream has been the big leagues my whole life,” Gaffney told MLB.com. “I think I’ve been tasting that every time I was hurt. You have time to think about things like that. So now I’m here, putting in my work.
“Now I’m here, five years later. I think the last couple years took their toll on my body. The heart wanted it. The body didn’t. I’m finally able to come back to baseball, the sport I love.”
He’s off to a solid start with the Bradenton Marauders in the Single-A Florida State League. In his first nine games, he was hitting .273 with a couple of steals. On Thursday he went 1-for-4 hitting seventh and playing right field in Bradenton’s win over the Palm Beach Cardinals.
It can’t be easy after five baseball seasons off, especially when plenty of those years were spent dealing with serious injuries and the mental hurdles on coming back. Playing at PNC Park in Pittsburgh must seem like a long way away, but it’s a pretty fun story to track.
“I’m a fighter. I’ve always been told, ‘You’re not going to make it,'” Gaffney told MLB.com.
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