In four years, Aiden McCafferty went from a hidden gem to a sparkling diamond for the Aberdeen Smittys.
McCafferty recalled his early days with the squad when as a 15-year-old he was called up to play with the guys he grew up wanting to be like.
“I was only a freshman when I got called up. I had no idea what was going on. I had never played outfield before in my life. I was terrified,” he said. “I was only 15 at the time going against these 19 year-olds from all around the state. I was definitely scared.”
McCafferty played rightfield at the time and just hoped that nobody would spot him on the field.
“I would just sit there in the outfield and remember thinking, ‘Don’t hit it to me. Please, don’t hit to me. Just let me go bat.’ “
Of course, hitting wasn’t much easier, either. McCafferty was exposed to guys with much higher velocity and a variety of off-speed pitches.
“I got in to bat against Peyton Zabel (of Pierre) who ended up getting drafted that year,” McCafferty said. “I saw four pitches. I fouled one of them off. That was about the best I could do.”
It did not take long for McCafferty to prove he belonged, though. He soon found himself at bat in the bottom of the seventh with a guy on second, down a run. He delivered a game-tying base hit.
“At that point they just started accepting me as a regular every day player,” McCafferty said, “basically like part of the team, like I had always been there.”
And McCafferty has always been there as a staple of the team ever since.
This year he leads the team in the rare combination of home runs and stolen bases, something similar to what Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins could possibly accomplish if healthy.
“I got a bunch of his jerseys up in my room,” McCafferty said, “so we’ll shoot for that.”
He is also a stabilizing force out on the mound. While noting that he is not the hardest thrower on the team, McCafferty can fill the zone with strikes, an important quality to have as a pitcher at any level, especially Legion ball.
“I’ve kind of always been a pitcher. I was never like the number one pitcher on the team. I was always the guy that could come in and throw strikes consistently,” he said. “I don’t strike a lot of people out, because I don’t throw hard enough to do that. I’ll throw in the strike zone and then I’m going to trust my defense to get them out.”
McCafferty also plays centerfield. He has been known to gun down opposing runners as they attempt to grab another base. He equates that feeling to the same as hitting a home run or striking out a batter.
“It’s up there with one of those feelings because you’re 150-200 feet away and all they have to run is 90 feet, and they can’t do it on you,” McCafferty said. “It makes you feel really good about yourself.”
McCafferty said his family played a key role in him getting involved in baseball.
“My family is very athletic. We love competition. We’ll turn a simple game of P-I-G into if you lose you have to buy the rest of the family ice cream,” he said. “Baseball has always been my parents’ favorite sport.”
McCafferty, who will play baseball at Dakota State next season, is closing out his career with the Smittys. He said his final year has been an enjoyable experience as the squad developed a competitive spirit this season.
“It’s a lot more fun when you can pull up to the field and not think we’re just going to get blown out this game,” he said. “It does a lot for your confidence when you can show up to the field, thinking we can win this game, we can beat whoever is pitching against us. We can do it.”
The Smittys face top-seeded Sioux Falls East tonight and tomorrow to open the post season. Despite being the bottom seed, McCafferty and his teammates are not ready to concede anything.
“We’re showing them that we don’t want to be done,” McCafferty said. “We’re going to go out and play Smittys baseball and just show them what we can do.”
And you can bet that McCafferty will be the center of attention, wanting to help show what he can do instead of just trying to blend in somehow like he did four years ago.
“It definitely has changed. I went from being in the 9-hole and hiding me in the outfield just so they would have enough guys to batting third, playing center every game, someone everyone kind of looks up to because they know I’ve been here so long,” McCafferty said. “They know what I can do. I know what they can do. We know how to play baseball together now.”
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