The last year of eligibility can be a difficult time for any college athlete. But when you suffer an injury while doing well in your last season with the team, it makes the last year even more stressful.
Outfielder Toby Hanson started all 57 games last season as a junior. He was one of the most influential batters for the Gophers, topping Minnesota's charts with 57 RBIs and 75 hits. The total was good for a .319 batting average. But this year, a wrist injury and surgery have gotten in the way.
"Unfortunately, he missed too many games because of injuries," head coach John Anderson said. "I wish he could have been on the field more, but that happens sometimes in somebody's career."
Through the first 25 games of the season, Hanson had 85 at bats with 30 hits along with a .353 batting average, and 17 RBIs to show for it. Then, he suffered a wrist injury in the final game of the Nebraska series and sat out for eight games in the middle of the season.
He has been the designated hitter while working back into shape, occasionally getting time in the field. Hanson's wrist gets stiff and still gives him trouble at times, he said.
"I've never really [been designated hitter] a whole lot in my life, so it's kind of an adjustment, a lot of sitting around waiting," Hanson said. "Right now, it's just kind of waiting until I get fully healthy, and then I should be able to get back into the outfield."
Hanson said he has taken more of a leading role now as one of the older and more experienced members of the team. Freshman pitcher Ryan Duffy also had a surgery midway through the season at the same time, and the two talked about that experience together.
"I think [Hanson has] really helped me through that process, just by watching him, too," Duffy said. "Bringing his focus to practice and how he's handled things, staying calm, even though things aren't always going your way."
For Hanson, professional baseball might be the next chapter, but he said he isn't thinking about that phase of his life yet.
"It goes so quick," Hanson said of college baseball. "You just try to embrace every day a little bit more than you usually do. You try to not take anything for granted, and come to the ball park with a smile on your face."
As the final few weekends of the season approach, Hanson and the Gophers have a good chance at making the NCAA Tournament this year as they sit at 29 in the RPI rankings, which is one of the main determinants for making the playoffs. Sixty-four teams make the tournament and the Gophers narrowly missed it last year.
Anderson said he expects Hanson and fellow outfielder Alex Boxwell to lead the experienced Gophers squad in the final weeks of the season.
"[They] are going to be the keys for what we do here down the stretch," Anderson said of the two seniors. "They've played a lot, and they've both had their share of injuries and I just think eventually the baseball gods are going to turn in their favor. I just got a feeling that they're going to heat up."