A devotion to routines carried Garrett Bayliff through baseball, homework, three ankle surgeries and hog shows.
“He showed a lot of livestock,” said his father, veterinarian Barry Bayliff. “You get (swine) at two months, show them at three or four months and then sell them by six or seven. It’s feeding, husbandry care, exercise every day.”
“Every day” describes Bayliff’s success this season. After two seasons abbreviated by a frustrating cycle of injury, surgery and rehab, he is healthy, starting in right field and leading Wichita State with a .367 batting average. He extended his career-long hitting streak to 15 games over the weekend while battering Southern Illinois pitching for seven hits in 15 at-bats.
Bayliff, a junior from Tuttle, Okla., played six games in 2011 before he fractured his right fibula and dislocated his ankle sliding into second base. After a second surgery, he played 21 games in 2012 before pain ended his season. To be a regular in the lineup now means all his work and patience paid off.
“It takes a lot of your mind when you don’t have to worry if your ankle is going to hurt when you run down to first base,” he said. “I’m pretty grateful that I’m still getting to go out there and play the game I love every day.”
Bayliff didn’t know if that would be the case last summer. The ankle bothered him and doctors couldn’t tell him why. Then a doctor in Charlotte, N.C., looked at his MRI and found two bone chips, hidden in scar tissue. The third surgery, performed in early September, fixed the pain and put Bayliff back into WSU’s lineup for good.
WSU coach Gene Stephenson is sure most players, put in Bayliff’s situation, give up after the second surgery proved unsuccessful.
“He has a great love for playing the game,” Stephenson said. “And he has tremendous self-discipline. When you see that kind of dedication to trying to do well and never giving up, it’s really inspiring to me, and it should be inspiring to everyone.”
Quitting meant leaving a sport Bayliff loved since he started playing T-ball. His dad, a high school outfielder, took him on family vacations to Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium and The Ballpark at Arlington. They watched the Texas Rangers together. Barry Bayliff coached him until he knew his son needed more specialized instruction and then watched him improve.
“There was never a doubt in his mind he was going to play again,” Barry Bayliff said. “He loves that game so much.”
Garrett Bayliff remembers pondering not playing before the third surgery. The doctor’s optimism calmed those fears.
“Once I had surgery, I was happy I did,” he said. “And then it was back to the grind. I knew that if I could ever get healthy, I could help the team a lot.”
Bayliff welcomes that grind, whether it means getting his homework done before going out, getting up early to feed pigs or honing his swing in the Eck Stadium batting cages. WSU coaches compare his time sheet of extra house with a bat to that of Conor Gillaspie, the Chicago White Sox third baseman known for spending late nights swinging away even after going 4 for 4.
For Bayliff, the routine is all that matters. He follows the same schedule before each game, going upstairs at Eck Stadium to hit off a tee for 25 minutes, varying the drills, before going outside for batting practice. In batting practice, he works on hitting the ball the other way.
“You’ve got to get your repetitions in,” he said. “I’m very routine-based. If I don’t do my routine, I feel weird.”
His teammates aren’t surprised Bayliff is succeeding through the injuries and inactivity.
“He just works harder than anybody,” shortstop Erik Harbutz said. “You see him before practice, after practice. Before games, after games. That kid loves baseball.”
After two years of ankle pain, the sport is loving him back this season.